Two historical mysteries steeped in autumnal gloom give new meaning to the phrase “curl up and die.”
Perhaps the best way to describe these two historical mysteries bound for bookshelves this October comes from Detective Inspector St. John Strafford, hero of Booker Prize winner John Banville’s new novel, Snow. Musing about finding patterns in crimes and trying to make the pieces fit, Strafford says, “The pieces don’t stay still. They tend to move around, making patterns of their own, or what seem to be pat- terns. Everything is deceptive.” Both novels are steeped in secrets and intrigue that will keep readers guessing right along with the detectives, perfect for the time of year when shadows grow longer and darker by the day.
In Snow, set in 1957 Ireland, Strafford responds to the death of Father Tom Lawless, whose body has been found in the library of Ballyglass House, the estate of wealthy aristocrat Colonel Osborne. Osborne is convinced the death is the result of a break-in gone awry, while the archbishop of Dublin wants to deem the death an accident, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. A Protestant in predominantly Catholic Ireland, Strafford isn’t convinced either way, and the pursuit of the killer is on. When one of Strafford’s deputies goes missing during their inquiry, the stakes ramp up exponentially.
Centuries earlier, in the chaotic 16th-century Paris of S.J. Parris’ vibrant new mystery, Conspiracy, philosopher Giordano Bruno becomes embroiled in the hunt for the murderer of Father Paul Lefèvre, whom he had hoped would help him get back into the church’s good graces.
Bruno is soon swept into plots and counterplots wrought by King Henry III’s rivals, the Queen Mother Catherine de Medici and the king’s archnemesis, the Duke of Guise. Bruno stumbles onto one murder after another and is on the verge of being blamed for the entire trail of death when help comes from an unanticipated source: Charles Paget, an English Catholic and enemy of Queen Elizabeth I.
Snow follows a more traditional approach to its mystery, with Strafford reflecting that the case seems straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Conspiracy, meanwhile, is a much denser, historically rich novel complete with palace intrigue and a vividly rendered setting. Both books offer intricate puzzles, a paucity of clues and an array of potential suspects, all of whom have motive to do the deed. Further complicating things is pressure from outside forces to cover up the crimes from the public.
Ultimately, as Strafford points out, the culprits’ undoing lies in their very plans. “A plan always has something wrong with it,” he reflects. “There’s always a flaw.”