Crime Mystery Thriller

Snow – John Banville

3 September 2020
Snow Book Cover Snow
John Banville
Hanover Square Press
6 October 2020

The incomparable Booker Prize winner's next great crime novel--the story of a family whose secrets resurface when a parish priest is found murdered in their ancestral home Detective Inspector St. John Strafford has been summoned to County Wexford to investigate a murder. A parish priest has been found dead in Ballyglass House, the family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family. The year is 1957 and the Catholic Church rules Ireland with an iron fist. Strafford--flinty, visibly Protestant and determined to identify the murderer--faces obstruction at every turn, from the heavily accumulating snow to the culture of silence in this tight-knit community. As he delves further, he learns the Osbornes are not at all what they seem. And when his own deputy goes missing, Strafford must work to unravel the ever-expanding mystery before the community's secrets, like the snowfall itself, threaten to obliterate everything. Beautifully crafted, darkly evocative and pulsing with suspense, Snow is "the Irish master" (New Yorker) John Banville at his page-turning best.


A deeply attentive plot that is clever and watchful through the characters that are so wonderfully drawn. There are many subtle nuances that enable John Banville to play with scenarios that are intriguing to observe, particularly the relationship between the preeminent catholic church in Ireland and the protestant citizens that tended to hold positions of wealth and standing. The imagery of a landscape covered in snow provides a very intriguing analogy with a blanket of cover concealing crimes, lies and secrets. Under the unbroken whiteness lies the dark reality of what the normal ground looks like.

Detective Inspector St John Strafford (with an R) is dispatched to Osborne Manor to investigate the murder and mutilation of a catholic priest. Father Tom Lawless was found dead in the library, in a pool of blood with his genitals removed, and where the body has been respectfully repositioned with the blood around the body mopped up. There are several contrasting themes at play throughout the novel, none more glaring than the catholic-protestant wariness and how it adds to suspicion and motives around everyone. Strafford is a protestant detective in the catholic dominated police force and Colonel Osborne is the protestant owner of Osborne Manor and its estate. The influence of the Catholic Archbishop is considerable and the body does not remain local in Wexford but driven to Dublin for autopsy.

A police crime-investigation into the murder and mutilation of a priest in Ireland – I wonder what the priest could have been guilty of to warrant such a reaction? It seems that once Ireland emerged from the controlling societal influence of the catholic church, it opened the flood gates for stories that shone the light on so many dark crimes from within the church.

Snow is a different type of book from other John Banville books I’ve read, and I felt his wonderful literary ability and careful development of characters and backdrop kept the pace of this story slightly subdued – it could not be described as a pacey thriller. The character development creates several fascinating personalities and relationships, particularly DI Strafford, and I did fully enjoy the Osborne family. The multiple contrasting layers of mistrust, intrigue, allure, disguise and peculiar behaviour all add to a mysterious murder hunt.

I would like to thank Harlequin Trade Publishing, Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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