April in Spain
PublisherFaber and Faber
Date Published07 July 2022
Price£ 8.99

April in Spain

by John Banville

A Dublin pathologist on holiday with his wife in Spain is surprised to see someone supposed to be dead. His call back home provokes a lethal chain of events.


Irish State pathologist Quirke and his Austrian psychologist wife Evelyn are taking a relaxed holiday in San Sebastian. Visiting the local hospital for attention to a minor injury, Quirke recognises a doctor as someone he has met briefly before. It is clear from her reaction that she finds Quirke’s presence disturbing but makes no admission.

Quirke phones his daughter Phoebe in Dublin to say he believes the doctor, Angela Lawless, is really Phoebe’s good friend April Latimer who disappeared four years ago. Her brother then admitted to killing her before committing suicide. Phoebe agrees to travel to Spain to confirm the identification, and after talking to the Garda agrees that DI Strafford should accompany her.

Before she leaves she also tells Bill Latimer, April’s uncle, about the sighting. Bill, a Minister of State, is not happy to get the news. He immediately makes arrangements to have someone visit Spain to put an end to his frustrations. We hear enough about the agent, Terry Tice, to recognise that he has the capacity for the job, and to expect a violent outcome.

Several of the characters, notably Quirke and Strafford, appear in other novels by the author, but newcomers to Banville will not be at any disadvantage. The characters are depicted with great skill, giving them subtlety and depth. Considerable time, for example, is given to developing the nature of the intimacy between Quirke and his wife, the way in which the foibles of each are savoured by the other, depicting a relationship of true understanding.

The contract killer Tice is given equal attention, only in this case the portrait is of a man characterised by hate. Tice seems incapable of affection for others, but is easily provoked to anger and happy to impose pain or death on others without a moment’s thought. Until recently, he was in London rubbing shoulders with the Kray twins amongst other villains, now, by sheer coincidence, he is back in his birthplace of Dublin.

The key to Tice’s behaviour is partly to be found in one of the ghastly Catholic orphanages that blighted the Irish landscape up to the late 20th century. Although the date is not mentioned, the book is set in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s when such institutions were still going strong, with criticism of the church very muted. Quirke shared Tice’s start in life but has survived to become a better human being, although not unscarred.

Banville articulates the internal life of his characters so well and convincingly that even when people act in unexpected ways he defuses any problems with credibility by having the person be equally surprised and question themselves. The prose is wonderful and the narrative compelling.

Reviewed 30 April 2023 by Chris Roberts