Snow by John Banville [6/10]

Snow” is both a stock-standard police procedural, set in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s, and a sly oddity. John Banville, a Booker Prize being one of his many achievements in the literary fiction field, has also penned seven fast mysteries set in the same milieu under his Benjamin Black penname, and one wonders why Snow did not more properly fit into that universe. I think the difference is the sensibility of Snow. Starring Detective Inspector St John Strafford from Dublin, Snow features a claustrophobic, isolated manor in the Agatha Christie or Daphne du Maurier tradition, and the murder victim, a castrated priest, creates a tableau of subterranean horrors contrasted with pristine glitz. Strafford is an engaging, capable, somewhat detached puzzle solver, Banville is a consummate wordsmith with an easy rhythm, and the plot unfolds in a well-controlled fashion. I really did feel like I was reading a mystery from my teens, albeit with a modern macabre edge. If the easy read did not translate into palpable tension, if the twist ending was not really a twist at all, if Strafford’s otherness left him a cypher … none of these spoiled a juicy period piece mystery.

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