The Pequod Review:

John Banville's eighteenth book is a literary mystery novel — and the emphasis is more on literary rather than mystery, as his so-so procedural plot (involving a Catholic priest's murder in an Irish country manor) is made up for by sharply observant prose:

The library had the look of a place that no one had been in for a very long time, and today it wore a put-upon aspect, as though indignant that its solitude should be so suddenly and so rudely violated. The glass-fronted bookcases lining the walls stared before them coldly, and the books stood shoulder to shoulder in an attitude of mute resentment. The mullioned windows were set into deep granite embrasures, and snow-light glared through their numerous tiny leaded panes. Strafford had already cast a skeptical eye on the architecture of the place. Arts-and-Crafts fakery, he had thought straight off, with a mental sniff. 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.


Strafford, batting his hat softly against his left thigh, looked about distractedly. Everything felt unreal, the big square room, the lofty bookcases, the fine but faded Turkey carpet, the furniture arranged just so and the body, laid out so neatly, the eyes open and filmed over, gazing upward vaguely, as if their owner were not dead but lost in puzzled speculation.

And then there was the man standing on the other side of the corpse, in his pressed slacks and checked cotton shirt and expertly knotted bow tie, with his military mustache and his cold eyes and a star of light from the window behind him twinkling on the slope of his taut, tanned scalp. It all seemed too theatrical, especially with that unnaturally brilliant white light pressing in from outdoors. It was too much like the last scene of a drawing-room melodrama, with the curtain about to come down and the audience getting ready to applaud.

What had gone on here last night, that had left this man dead and mutilated?