Snow (St. John Strafford, 1) by Jon Banville

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2020

Book blurb

‘The body is in the library,’ Colonel Osborne said. ‘Come this way.’

Following the discovery of the corpse of a highly respected parish priest at Ballyglass House – the Co. Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family – Detective Inspector St John Strafford is called in from Dublin to investigate. 

Strafford faces obstruction from all angles, but carries on determinedly in his pursuit of the murderer. However, as the snow continues to fall over this ever-expanding mystery, the people of Ballyglass are equally determined to keep their secrets.

My thoughts

Set in Ireland (Eire) of the 1950s we are presented with a detective attending a country house where a priest has died. The body, found in the library, has been mutilated. Clearly the setting for a cosy mystery, surely?

But – no! The thought that this was going to be a light hearted ‘cosy mystery’ was soon corrected as it became quite obvious that this was more about the why of the murder. The subject matter, although murder is never an easy thing, became very dark.

D I Strafford is accompanied by D S Jenkins they work out of Dublin and have been called in by their bosses to investigate the death of a priest in the expectation that this is an accident. Even when it turns out to be a murder this expectation remains. Indeed, once the reason for the murder becomes clear it is fully anticipated that the Church will intervene to ensure a cover up and be allowed to do so.

Banville has set this story against a backdrop of a cold, snowy winter in the run up to Christmas in late 1950s county Wexford in Eire. Using a cold and somewhat creepy setting in Ballyglass House the seat of the Osborne family for the murder. You can certainly feel the cold both in the setting and with the characters. The characters had little depth but the setting, the place, the times and overall the book are well written.

Even with this being the first in what is a series Detective St John Strafford is not a particularly likeable or, for that matter, dislikeable character. We read of an insecure, almost incompetent detective, whose personal and professional life has fallen short of what might have been expected. Here he is in the Garda when he could have been a solicitor. Not that insecure then!

His thoughts and actions with the various women we hear about or meet range from being rather sad to downright unprofessional. Much of which, for the storyline, seemed unnecessary and did not help bring any empathy to his character.

The scene with the Cardinal and his forthright comments to both him and his superior, that he would not stop investigating until he had the murderer even if that prevented the covering up of the priests actions, put him in the best light.

Snow is a novel in which there is a detective and a murder used as a vehicle for the author to tell the story of a priest who abused children. With elements, such as the diary section, that make for very dark, very uncomfortable reading. That the Church covered things up, perhaps even murder, to prevent the abuse that was happening being exposed. I get that. It’s not that this element of the story shouldn’t be told, on the contrary, it is important that this sad and shameful chapter in the Catholic Church is exposed along with any collaboration by authorities in the countries across the world where abuse took place.

Although in places a difficult read I did enjoy Snow but was ultimately left feeling that this has been a book in which the author has created a story, within a genre that he is familiar with, to write about a subject he clearly feels strongly about without quite doing full justice to either. John Banville is obviously a good author. That this didn’t quite work for me is a real shame.

Book; purchased (hardback)

A Virtual Crime Book Club

A Virtual Crime Book Club meets monthly on a Monday at 8pm (UK time) and all are welcome. You will find all the information to watch and join on this months post from our host and author Rebecca Bradley.

Snow by Jon Banville was chosen as the December read for the book club. It was included as part of a wish to have a lighter read and seemed to fall into the ‘cosy mystery’ genre of crime fiction. Well, as you can now see, it wasn’t quite what was anticipated but nevertheless it was generally considered a well written book. As always the viewing of the book club session comes with the usual warning ⚠️ that there are spoilers. If you intend to read it please do so before watching this episode.

Next Meeting

The meeting will be held on Monday 31st January at 8pm GMT (UK timezone). You need to join the book club to receive the email with login details. Sign up HERE.

The voting has finished and the votes for January’s Virtual Crime Book Club read have been counted. There was a wide smattering of votes for all the books this month, but we do have a winner, and the book we are reading is For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing.


Published: Faber & Faber (1 Oct. 2020)

Buy: Faber Shop | Hive | AmazonSmileUK | | Your local independent bookshop

Author: John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of seventeen novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and the Quirke Series of crime novels under the pen name Benjamin Black. Other major prizes he has won include the Franz Kafka Prize, the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Achievement in Irish Literature, and the Prince of Asturias Award. He lives in Dublin.


St John Stafford series (written as Jon Banville)

1 Snow | 2 April in Spain

Quirke series (writing as Benjamin Black)

1 Christine Falls | 2 The Silver Swan | 3 Elegy for April | 4 A Death in Summer | 5 Vengeance | 6 Holy Orders | 7 Even the Dead


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