I received a copy of Silver Swan as part of LT’s early reviewer's program. In this sequel to Christine Falls, Quirke is on the wagon and sober, his relationship with his daughter (whom he formerly thought was his niece), is broken, and his wife Delia and his wife's sister Sarah, whom he loved, are also dead.
Billy Hunt, an old school associate, has come to ask Quirke not to perform an autopsy out of respect for his dead wife. Deirdre Hunt, (or Laura Swan as she’s come to be known in her business), has apparently committed suicide by drowning; Quirke being Quirke, of course, he performs the autopsy anyway. When he does, he concludes she didn’t drown after all. His relentless curiosity compels him to learn what happened.
The Silver Swan is not nearly as atmospheric as Christine Falls in my view, but perhaps that's just because it's the second book of Black's that I've read, and perhaps I have adjusted to his writing style. Oddly enough the atmospherics of the novel are often lighter - there's much less smoke (see my previous review of Christine Falls for more on that), and even when the interpersonal relationships seem strained, Dublin seems a fine place to be:
...They set off walking together down the hill road to seafront. For Quirke there was something at once dreamy and quintessential about the summer afternoons; they seemed the very definition of weather, and light, and time. The sunlit road before them was empty. Heavy frondages of lilac leaned down from the garden walls, the polished leaves mingling their faint, sharp scent with the salt smell of the sea. They did not speak, and the longer the silence between them lasted the more difficult it was to break. Quirke felt slightly and pleasantly ridiculous. This could only be called a date, and he could not remember when he had last been on one. He was too old, or at least too unyoung, for such an outing. He found this fact inexplicably cheering.
The day was hot already, with shafts of sunlight reflecting like brandished swords off the roofs of motorcars passing by outside in the smoky, petrol-blue air.
In any case, Black spends a lot of time and verbiage describing scenes, settings, and details (often to no apparent point). The writing is lovely, and Dublin is well rendered. Quirke’s constant itch for a drink is palpable, and the mystery is intriguing. But in the end I found this book less compelling than Christine Falls; Quirke’s motivations seem unclear, and while he still smokes like a chimney, his personal challenges never seem to lead anywhere. The mystery, while entertaining, and progressively more salacious, doesn’t rise to the intricately interwoven plot of Christine Falls. It’s a fine book, but doesn’t rise to the level of its predecessor.