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Snow
By: John Banville
Hanover Square Press

The novel is set in 1957 in Ballyglass House in Ballyglass, Co. Wexford. The time is winter. And snow is everywhere.
The Osborne Family had controlled this area of Ireland for generations. Father Tom Lawless, a frequent visitor, is murdered in Ballyglass House. It is reported to the Guards, and a detective from Dublin is sent to investigate. The detective chosen is Detective Inspector St. John Strafford.
Strafford is chosen because he grew up in a “Big” House. His family were member of the Gentry. He is a Protestant in an almost all Catholic police force. Detective Strafford has risen to the position of Detective Inspector. He is “35 years old but looked much younger, tall and thin…with a sharp, narrow face, green eyes, and hair of no particular color.” He often wears a soft black fedora.
He begins his investigation, and is surprised to learn that only five people live in the enormous house. They are: Colonel Osborne, his wife, his teenage daughter, and her teenage brother, and Mrs. Duffy. She is cook and manager of the house.
Strafford walked around in the home to get the “geography” of it. He discovers no sign of forced entry.
The priest was a frequent guest. Moreover, the five listed above were there when the priest was killed. They are all suspects and will need to be carefully investigated.
The priest was in a dark hallway in the middle of the night, when he was stabbed on the right side of the neck. The severed jugular produced a lot of blood and instant paralysis of the right arm. Despite that, he got from the second floor where the bedrooms were to the top of the stairs. He then got down the main staircase and crashed into the library. Where he collapsed and died.
The corpse was completely castrated, or as the country folks said: gelded. Why? That will be one of the major things for Strafford to investigate.
Strafford observes that “Life was a mystery.” We accompany him on all the interviews of the people who were in the house, as well as the many people he meets during the investigation. Strafford doesn’t have a family: he is completely devoted to his work. As he says: “His strongest drive was curiosity.”

There are plenty of things in this powerful and dramatic novel for him to be curious about. They deepen our understanding and appreciation of life.
Snow was written by Irish novelist John Banville. He lives in Dublin with his wife and daughters. He was born in Wexford in 1945. He was the Man-Booker Prize. That prize is the leading award in the English speaking world. It is “awarded to the best novel of the year written in English.” He has written, and also writes crime fiction, using the pen name: Bartholomew Black.
As Detective Strafford walks the house, he observes that a light bulb is missing in the dark corridor where the priest was attacked. He realizes the murder was premeditated and thinks, “A person acting on impulse can be lucky. He’ll still strike without thinking. But a plan always has something wrong with it. There’s always a flaw. Our job is to find it.”
Strafford, like many policemen, is a keen observer of how people dress. You can learn a lot about someone before they say a word.
“Colonel Osborne looked to be in his early fifties, lean and leathery, with a nail brush mustache and sharp blue eyes. He was of middle height and bow-legged—and he walked with a curious rolling gait, like an orangutan…”
“Father Tom had been a big man, with burly shoulders and a barrel chest. There were wooly clumps of hair in his ears—priests being wifeless tended to neglect that kind of thing.”
“He got up at some point in the night—dressed himself, even put on his clerical collar, left the rooms, and didn’t come back.”
Strafford wonders: “Why would he have put on his collar if he was only going to the lavatory?” The detective is told the “WC is in the other direction. Then, what do you think he was doing?”
Human beings develop their sense of worth and confidence as babies and as young children. That is on Strafford’s mind when he interviews Fonsey. He runs the stable for the Osbornes.
“His mother put him in an orphanage before leaving for England. But when he was old enough to use fists, he became obstreperous and was packed off to an Industrial school in the west of Ireland called Carricklea. When he came out years later, he became an apprentice. But late Fonsey left and was living in a caravan in Ballyglass Wood and taking care of the horses at Ballyglass House.
Carricklea was a harsh Industrial school. Despite being run by Catholic Clergy, discipline was brutal. The children were very badly treated and were often sexually abused.
As a young priest, Father Tom was sent there to be a part of the faculty. He became, or had been, what today would be called a “sexual predator. “He gave affection, friendliness, and kindness, as a long as sexual favors were given to him.
The great mystery writer, Raymond Chandler said, “The only real mystery worth investigating was morality.”
Strafford meets Fonsey. The caravan door was flung open. “A figure loomed fear-like before him. Big shoulders, broad brow, red hair the color of bronze. Fonsey, the feral boy in dungarees, hobnailed boots, and a soiled woolen vest.”
“His eyes were a shade of yellowish green, with incongruously long lashes, curving upward, like a girl’s. On his forehead was an angry rash of pimples and there was a running sore at one side of his lower lip that he kept picking at.”
Strafford “saw now that despite his shambling gait and hulking frame—he was built top-heavy, like a buffalo…he was deceptively alert.” “Had Father Tom chatted to him?”
“No, he didn’t chat to me.” Strafford says, “You know he had a reputation for being very outgoing and friendly.” Fonsey answers, “Ah, sure, they’re all that way. The priests are all friendly” and he laughed.
The priest’s body had been quickly shipped to Dublin. The announcement to the press, approved by the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, said there was an accident and the priest had fallen down some stairs. The facts were quickly covered up. No one was punished. So much for morality.

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