Snow—John Banville writes a mystery


By John Banville

Published 2020

Read March 2021

As noted in a previous entry, this reader found a Benjamin Black novel in a Little Library on a road in the Finger Lakes and learned two things:  Benjamin Black is the pen name of Dublin’s famous writer John Banville; Benjamin Black’s mystery novels are well “crafted” (as the author describes) and quite the worthy read.  This reader has enjoyed another Benjamin Black novel since then and commented on it.

Recently this reader found John Banville’s Snow in a Little Library in Naples Park, Florida.  While this book was found 1500 miles away from the other Little Library, the discovery was just as welcomed as the first.  Apparently Banville (a highly celebrated Irish writer) has decided it’s acceptable to sign his “entertainments” with his real name.   

This book too is has a mystery in it.  While the book suggests it may have a classic Agatha Christie plot—the victim is found dead in the library and the killer must have been inside the house when the family retired—the book also provides a unique look into the 1957 world of Wexford County via depiction of a  fraying Anglo-Irish Protestant family and its interactions with the Catholic priest who is murdered in their slowly decaying house.  St John Strafford, the investigator from Dublin, is an unusual Garda member as he is from the same class as the family and also a Protestant.  We hear his thoughts as he moves through the investigation and through his days and nights while staying in this small town south of Dublin.  We watch him slowly unfold a number of family secrets and we see him interact with the Catholic Church as it defines what is expected from the investigation of the death of one of their priests.  

This reader won’t divulge more about the plot which is certainly darker than hoped for by this reader but as dark as should be expected by some of the details of the murder.    Rather this reader will leave you with a passage that quite took this reader by pleasant surprise and made her sit upright.  Strafford has been forced to stop his car to wait for a flow of sheep to pass across the road.  “Strafford idly studied the milling animals, admiring their long aristocratic heads and neat little hoofs, like carved nuggets of coal, on which they trotted so daintily.  He was struck too by their protuberant and intelligent-seeming shiny black eyes, expressive of social resignation tinged with the incurable shame of their plight, avatars of an ancient race, being herded ignominiously along a country road by a snot-nosed brat with a stick.”

This reader is glad Banville has decided to expand his literary efforts to this new form of “entertainment”.  Benjamin Black’s novels are much more than simple mysteries providing terrific language about not only the characters but their physical and social environment.  Banville has upped the ante even more with this entry and this reader looks forward to more. 

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