Setting the story in the 50's allows Black to explore the atmosphere of guilt and sexual repression of that era, the male domination of women as well as the power and influence of the Catholic Church. He does a great job of creating a gloomy noir mood in Dublin, where it seems to always be rainy or foggy. And when the scene switches to a millionaire's mansion outside of Boston, it feels a lot like “Citizen Kane”. The characters are not exactly three dimensional, but then that's not really the point in mystery novels. The plot has more than enough twists to keep you turning the pages, and Quirke is very appealing as the flawed hero.
I had some trouble accepting the plausibility of the conspiracy that Quirke eventually uncovers. Could they really have pulled this off, even in the 50's? But Black's prose is a pleasure to read. He's already written two more Quirke mysteries, so if you like this one there's more to enjoy. Banville clearly seems to relish writing in this genre.