SNOW by John Banville got a hearty endorsement from several hard-core mystery reader friends and it lived up to expectations in every way except one.
It’s a freezing, snowy winter in 1957. Ireland is still a new country. Detective St. John (pronounced Sinjun as he takes pains to note) Strafford is sent to the country home of the Osborne family to investigate the murder of a visiting family friend, a Catholic priest.
It’s quickly apparent that this is a locked room mystery. Someone in this highly dysfunctional family must be the villain.
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Ireland’s troubled religious history and enduring divisions are on full display. The family is Protestant, as is Strafford, but the priest was an avid horseman and hunter who was great pals with the dad, a retired military man. Of course, the all powerful archbishop in Dublin wants everything hushed up. Strafford is caught between the powerful Catholic Church, a long-suffering boss in the police department, and his own notions of justice.
Everyone in the family qualifies as a suspect. The lady of the house is an addict who seduces Strafford, the son and daughter dislike their parents and ancestral home, and the father might have murdered his first wife. No one seems terribly upset about the dead priest in the library.
The author’s sense of time and place is excellent. The writing is superb, with descriptions that lure us into this cold, murky winter investigation.
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Strafford makes keen observations about the family as they drift through the investigation like actors on a stage fulfilling typecast roles. The author cleverly makes Strafford an actor on the stage, too. He’s the second lead who creates ripples that are resolved in Act III but isn’t enough of a presence that we remember the actor’s name after the curtain falls. Strafford is still finding his way, still unsure of what he wants out of life, and that makes him an enigmatic officer of the law.
SNOW has the same vibe as the tv series Endeavour, about the young Inspector Morse. If SNOW is ever made into a movie, actor Shaun Evans would make the perfect St. John Strafford. More about the tv series on imdb: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2701582/
Given the quality of writing, my one complaint about SNOW was that the motive was sadly unimaginative. Basically, we’ve seen this before. Or maybe I have just read too many mystery novels.
Find SNOW on Amazon: https://geni.us/sno101
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