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April in Spain

April in Spain 1

Shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger 2022

by John Banville
Publication Date: 28/09/2021
5/5 Rating 1 Review

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The sumptuous, propulsive, sun-kissed follow up to the bestselling Snow, from the Booker Prize winning author.

'Northern Spain is southern Ireland,' she said. 'It rains all the time, everywhere is green, and everyone is Catholic. You will love it.'

On the idyllic coast of San Sebastian, Spain, Dublin pathologist Quirke is struggling to relax - despite the beaches, the cafes and his disarmingly lovely wife. So when he glimpses a familiar face in the twilight at the bar Las Arcadas, it's hard, at first, to tell whether his imagination is just running away with him. Could she really be who he thinks she is, and have a connection with a crime that nearly brought ruin to an Irish political dynasty?

Unable to ignore his instincts, Quirke makes a call back home and Detective St John Strafford is soon dispatched to Spain. But he's not the only one on route: as a terrifying hitman hunts down his prey, they are all set for a brutal showdown.

Thriller / suspense
Publication Date:
Faber & Faber, Limited
Country of origin:
United Kingdom
Dimensions (mm):
John Banville

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

In 2011 he was awarded the Franz Kafka Prize, in 2013 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature, and in 2014 he won the Prince of Asturias Award, Spain's most important literary prize. He lives in Dublin.

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1 Review

John Banville's latest instalment in his Quirke series (previous books have been published under his pen name Benjamin Black), draws in a new recurring character, D.I. St. John Strafford, with whom readers will be familiar from Banville's 2020 release Snow.
The book is set in the late 1950s - early 1960s. After an opening chapter told from the perspective of an Irish hitman living in England, the tone turns rather languid and reflective with State Pathologist Quirke (also Irish) and his wife, Austrian-born psychiatrist Evelyn, on holiday at the northern Spanish beach resort of Donostia-San Sebastián.
"There was a café on a square in the Old Town that became their favourite haunt of an evening. They took to sitting outside there, under an old stone arcade, as the nights grew increasingly warm." (loc. 219, Banville's description fits Constitución Plaza)
Quirke is jolted from his preoccupations and ruminations when, after an accident involving an oyster and nail scissors, he meets a young Irish doctor, Angela Lawless, at the local hospital. Although his recollection is based on a single passing introduction several years ago, when he was characteristically drunk, he becomes convinced that Dr. Lawless is, in fact, April Latimer, a friend of his daughter Phoebe's, who went missing, believed murdered, four years earlier.
Following an excruciatingly awkward dinner during which Quirke tries to draw Angela-April out, the action moves to Dublin, where Quirke's daughter Phoebe is reeling from the news her father has just relayed via telephone. By contacting April's uncle, Irish Defence Minister William Latimer, she unwittingly sets off a series of events which will put April's - and her own - life in danger.
Using alternating perspectives, Banville creates a palpable sense of tension and foreshadowing as Phoebe sets off, accompanied by D.I. Strafford representing the Garda Siochána, to join her father and step-mother in Spain.
The cleverly-titled April in Spain is high quality literary mystery-suspense, featuring Banville's characteristically elegant prose, simple but exquisite use of descriptive language to evoke setting and deep character exploration. Despite not having yet read the earlier Quirke books - I now intend to - I found myself quickly immersed in his mid-20th-century world. His relationship with Evelyn is portrayed with sensitivity and a lightness of touch, and the picturesque setting is rendered lifelike through his lens. While Strafford plays only a supporting role in this book, his character taciturn but highly-perceptive as in Snow, his involvement is pivotal as the story unfolds towards its shocking conclusion. The ground is set for him to remain a recurring character in future Quirke outings.
I'd highly recommend April in Spain to readers who appreciate a literary style of mystery, with evocative prose and well-developed characters. While the plot is a slow-build, committed readers will be well rewarded.
My thanks to the author, John Banville (aka Benjamin Black), publisher Faber and Faber Ltd. and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this stimulating title.

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