John Banville plays with the mystery novel’s cliches to fine effect
Best new crime fiction for October includes Banville’s Snow and Robert Harris’s V2
Strafford is led to the library, where the victim was discovered with a candlestick by his head. Photograph: iStock
“He wasn’t a snob, not exactly, only he liked things to be left as they were, and not got up as what they could never hope to be.” Det Insp St John Strafford, who makes his debut bow in John Banville’s Snow (Faber & Faber, £12.99), questions his own authenticity – can a Protestant scion of the landed gentry be truly at home in the Garda Síochána of the 1950s? – but also the roles being played by those he encounters when he arrives at Ballyglass House in Wexford just before Christmas to investigate the murder of the parish priest, Fr Tom Lawless.
“Everyone seemed to be in costume, seemed to be dressed for a part,” muses Strafford; met by Col Osborne, Strafford is led to the library, where the victim was discovered with a candlestick by his head. The Cluedo set-up aside, the novel is dotted with allusions to Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Gideon of the Yard, most of them employed in a self-deprecating way by professional policemen.