Snow is an engrossing noirish mystery from the author of Blue Guitar and The Untouchable. It’s 1957 in County Wexford, and a priest is found dead and castrated in a snowbound country manor. Inspector Strafford, called to investigate, suspects a cover up may be in progress. He’s a Protestant from the upper classes of society, and class and religion affect everything that happens in this story. He is an appropriately lonely outsider, driven to get to the truth and wondering what he will do with it when he finds it.
Banville usually writes crime or mystery novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, including the superb Quirke mystery series. Snow is a must read for Quirke fans as some of those characters appear here. The sharp wit we expect from Banville/Black is evident here. “It had snowed continuously for two days, and this morning everything appeared to stand in hushed amazement before the spectacle of such expanses of unbroken whiteness on all sides. People said it was unheard of, that they had never known weather like it, that it was the worst winter in living memory. But they said that every year when it snowed, and also in years when it didn’t snow.” (p. 3)
There are several knowing nods to other crime fiction – Snow opens with a body in a library, for starters. But while it’s a proper mystery, this is not cosy crime. There is corruption, and hypocrisy, and Banville skewers these where he finds them. He is not afraid of tackling difficult themes. Isolation is not picturesque here, but it can be witty: “He had seen a robin yesterday, too, somewhere. It was the time of year for them. Christmas. Yule logs. Holly wreaths. Loneliness.” (p. 172).
Get this for a mystery-loving friend for Christmas, and read it sneakily yourself before wrapping it. Enjoy the atmospheric twilit cover while you’re at it.