I enjoyed Benjamin Black’s The Silver Swan (my copy sent to me by the publisher), although I also thought it was a bit strange, most particularly so in its ending, which I won’t describe here. I’ll just say the ending struck me as unconventional. I find it hard to talk about conventions in crime novels, as I’m not that familiar with the genre, but the ending — while perfectly satisfying — seemed unusual.
I do rather wish I had read Christine Falls first, the book that opens the series; while The Silver Swan stands on its own, it does spend a lot of time reviewing and referring to what happened in the first novel, and I felt I would have been able to follow along better with that context a little clearer in my mind. I’ve read series books out of order before and felt a little less disoriented in those instances. Still, it’s a fine read no matter what.
The main character is Quirke (a delightful name, isn’t it?), an appealing protagonist, a man who (along with many other crime novel heroes I’m finding) has been thwarted in love, struggles with drinking, and is driven by a sense of curiosity that rarely does him any good. His wife Delia died quite some time ago, but the woman he truly loved, Delia’s sister, is recently lost, and Quirke is haunted by the failure of both these relationships. He also has a daughter, Phoebe, who only recently learned Quirke is her father, and she hasn’t yet forgiven him for keeping the secret. Quirke’s life and the lives of those around him are filled anger, resentment, and regret, and Quirke himself is surrounded by an air of melancholy. He’s a former alcoholic, haunted just as much by his longing for a drink as he is by his sense of his mistakes.
The mystery itself concerns an old school friend of Quirke’s who unexpectedly appears and asks Quirke, who works as a pathologist, to ensure that his recently dead wife, Dierdre Hunt, otherwise known as Laura Swan, does not receive an autopsy. Naturally, this sparks Quirke’s curiosity, and it comes as no surprise when we learn that Dierdre died under mysterious circumstances.
The novel’s point of view switches back and forth among the characters, moving from Quirke’s story back in time to tell Deirdre’s story and later moving into the point of view of other characters as well. We learn that Deirdre, in her Laura Swan guise, ran a beauty salon with the mysterious and slightly sinister Leslie White and that both of them visited the equally mysterious and slightly sinister Dr. Kreutz, who is a “spiritual healer,” an occupation that provokes suspicion in a number of the characters, and rightly so, as it turns out.
As Quirke investigates Deirdre’s life and her connections to Leslie White and Dr. Kreutz, he notices that his own daughter Phoebe has connections among these people as well, and then the plot begins to get interesting.
I enjoyed the book for its plot, but even more so for the relationships the novel describes; as happens in some of the other crime novels I’ve read, the crime seems almost like an excuse to throw some characters together in difficult circumstances to see how they behave themselves. I would like to go back and read Christine Falls now to see how Quirke began his life as a crime novel hero, and I would also like to read future installments, whenever they might appear, especially in light of The Silver Swan’s strange ending.