Off the Shelf: SNOW
By John Banville Hanover Square Press ISBN-13:978-1-335-23000-3 2020 299 PP Review by Terry Kenneally
Banville is a prizewinning literary novelist, but he is also a critic, former literary editor of The Irish Times, playwright, screenwriter and developer of a TV series. He has been compared to the English novelist Graham Greene, famous for his “entertainments.” Banville’s contribution to that genre is a series of detective novels written under his nom de plume, Benjamin Black, featuring Dublin pathologist Garret Quirk, which has been successfully adapted for television.
Snow is a classic policier in the Benjamin Black mode that features a young Irish detective called St. John (pronounced “Sinjun”) Strafford. Set in 1950s Ireland, it starts out with the murder of a priest in a country house in Wexford. Detective Strafford is sent from Dublin to investigate. He finds a host of suspects including the members of the Osborne family (4) and their staff, who were all in the house the night of the murder. One detail of the murder which draws his immediate attention is the fact that the priest has been expertly castrated.
As Strafford attempts to find the person responsible for the priest’s demise, he unearths secrets about the Osbourne’s and the dark undercurrents in 1950s Irish society. The Osbourne’s are Anglo-Irish Protestant landowners who trace their arrival in Ireland back to the time of Oliver Cromwell. They are a stark contrast (5%) to the overwhelming Catholic population in Ireland.
What distinguishes Strafford from almost all of is colleagues in the Garda, the Irish police force, is that he is likewise a Protestant. Strafford confuses the Osbourne’s by being one of them, yet potentially, their enemy. The family is bizarre and riven with mutual antagonisms. each member has personality traits which make them prime suspects.
The plot thickens, and it keeps the reader guessing. The title of the book is reflected in the weather, which seems to permeate every page. Reminds me of Joyce’s novella, “The Dead,” with concluding lines, “Snow was general all over Ireland…” Banville has once again written a TOP SHELF book which will capture the reader’s interest.