Alcoholic Dublin pathologist Quirke emerges from rehab in the 1950s to an urgent request from his daughter Phoebe to find an even more troubled daughter.
No one’s seen April Latimer for 12 days. In the case of her family, that’s hardly surprising, since they’d parted ways long ago. But the friends she’d made as a junior doctor at the Hospital of the Holy Family—a small group that includes actress Isabel Galloway, Nigerian medical student Patrick Ojukwu and Phoebe Griffin—are worried. So Phoebe asks her father, whom she’s known for most of her life as her uncle, for help. Though Quirke succeeds in interesting his friend Inspector Hackett in the case, he doesn’t succeed in much else, largely because April’s older brother Oscar and their widowed mother Celia simply assume the family’s black sheep has gone off with still another man, and her uncle Bill, Ireland’s Minister of Health, is so much more obsessed with damage control than with learning the truth that he uses every channel to block Quirke’s inquiries. The search settles into a well-worn rut—more hand-wringing from April’s friends, more denials from her family—that gives Quirke’s quest a tedium as authentic as that of a police procedural. What sets it apart is the uncanny ability of Black (The Lemur, 2008) to bring his characters alive with flashes of piercing insight, whether Quirke’s dealing with his stepmother-in-law or learning to drive.
This tale of two families—April’s clearly dysfunctional, Quirke’s nearly so—is the most conventional of the pathologist’s three cases to date (The Silver Swan, 2008, etc.).