Layers upon layers. Nothing is quite as it appears in John Banville’s Snow, a beautifully written, darkly perceptive country house mystery in the fine old classic crime tradition, set in a small country town in Ireland soon after the 2nd World War.
Snow falls, laying a beautiful, sometimes blinding, carpet that conceals any amount of ugliness beneath it. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford slips and slides through it in frustration as he attempts to penetrate the secrets of the Big House.
While Snow is a homage to the classic crime novels of the early 20th century, it is resolutely modern. We have the Colonel, his beautiful wife, his wild daughter and rakish son, as well as an equally caricatural supporting cast. And a murdered priest who “should never have gone to be a priest”. A thoroughly proper household and a thoroughly nasty lot. Unhappy, tormented, desperate.
“But that wasn’t him. That was only how he wanted people to think he was, while all the time he was someone else.”Snow, John Banville
There’s so much to enjoy in this novel. Banville is a superb writer. His cold, measured prose style is perfect, creating a cold, sharp atmosphere. You can feel the shivers and the hate.
The main ‘secret’ is not so secret: it’s just beneath the surface, unspoken but clearly signaled from early on. Strafford has his suspicions, revealed through his questions as he investigates. But Banville drops hints of more, playing with themes and metaphors, from snow to owls to dead men’s boots — this crime has deep roots.
Snow is overall an excellent crime novel that is easy to read for the story but amply rewards deeper examination.
My thanks to Faber & Faber, the author and Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.