Did Booker Award-winner John Banville choose the pseudonym Benjamin Black to underscore the noirish tone that colors his atmospheric Dublin-set mysteries? Whatever prompted the name, his crime fiction is extraordinary, and his insights into the Church-controlled politics and narrow-minded society of Ireland in the 1950s are fascinating. Quirke, the Dublin pathologist whose hard-drinking, hard-boiled shell covers his roiling inner demons takes center stage again in Elegy for April. He’s just back from a try at drying out when his daughter Phoebe (their strained, yearning relationship alone would make a fine novel) asks him to help find her best friend April, now missing for a fortnight. The search brings Quirke up against the vanished young woman’s powerful, well-connected family, people who seem to care more about their polished reputation than about April. But Quirke’s curiosity won’t quit until he pierces the heavy pall of hypocrisy that obscures April’s fate and discovers what happened to her and why. Timothy Dalton read Black’s previous two Quirke novels and gives another superb performance here.
GETTING DRUNK, GETTING SOBER
Mary Karr is a superb memoirist and a fabulous reader of her own words. Lit, published late last year, has finally been released on audio, and is well worth the wait. Hearing Karr’s voice adds immediacy and intimacy to this third volume of memoirs that began with The Liar’s Club. A great storyteller, she recounts this last painful, ultimately redemptive chapter of her life in her unique mix of lyric, metaphor-filled phrasing and cussing-cowboy wisecracking. Though she never minimizes her pain, anguish and remorse, there’s not a drop of self-pity or blame as she chronicles her early adulthood, marriage, motherhood, alcoholism, depression, divorce, recovery, shaky steps toward belief in a higher power, her conversion to Catholicism and her abiding love for her son. What she tells us is serious, often searing, yet her irreverent wit bubbles through, making this honest, unflinching evocation of her past even more, dare I say, intoxicating.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
I couldn’t wait to get my hands—and ears—on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the last in Stieg Larsson’s extraordinary Millennium trilogy. You won’t be disappointed in it for a second, or in Simon Vance’s pitch-perfect performance. So move to the edge of your seat and hold on as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist pick up exactly where we left them at the cliffhanging close of The Girl Who Played with Fire. The tension builds relentlessly as backstories morph into intriguing subplots, threats to the very core of Swedish democracy are uncovered, men in positions of authority continue to abuse their power, and Salander and Blomkvist continue to fight for justice in their different, inimitable styles. “When it comes down to it,” Blomkvist says, “this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it.” And when it comes to picking the best writer in this genre, it’s Larsson, without a doubt.