Snow by John Banville
The Irish countryside in winter, a murdered priest in the library, immoral goings on everywhere and a self-doubting detective make this an intriguing and engaging murder mystery with a unique flavor.
This is a somewhat grisly and slightly depraved crime drama garbed in the raiment of an English cozy, at least one would think so for a few pages. The quirky detective who isn’t sure that he should be one is sent to the Irish countryside from his post in Dublin to investigate the murder of a local priest. The body has been discovered in the library of a country estate. So much for the conventional Christie-esque part.
The place, the people, the situation all seem to him to be theatrical, phony even. There’s an ersatz ancestral home, a delusional family with neurotic tendencies, a clergyman with a shady flavor, a local constabulary populated by malcontents, sociopaths and a drunken grief-ridden chief. These country coppers are of little or no help, and an assistant who doesn’t like him makes St. John (Sinjun) Strafford’s job more burdensome that necessary. Complicated by a dreary romantic past and disturbing present sexual temptations his investigation has a hard time getting started and not much better success going forward. The deck does seem to be stacked against him, and he’s not feeling empowered by the resistance of his superiors back in the City and by the reluctance of the Church to publicize any scandal involving one of its members.
Religion is an integral part of the crime and of its investigation, or at least the practitioners of faith are. A Protestant (or Prod, as the locals have it) digging into the bowels of the Catholic church’s management of its priests, Strafford finds himself in a confrontation with the Archbishop of Irish Catholics who warns him against making public any findings that may cast a negative light upon the flock. His boss, the Detective Chief Inspector, back in Pearse Street, Dublin is not eager to involve himself in anything that is likely to put him in poor favor with the clergy and leaves the sleuth pretty much on his own. The reader needs to know that it’s not in any way a traditional cozy, but apart from that it’s a great whodunit.