I seem to be forever recommending Susan Hill to people, either for her wonderful ghost stories or her unusual crime novels. Posters advertising this book are currently plastered all over my local railway station so I hope the commuter population takes note!
I always look forward to the next Simon Serrailler mystery, as much to follow the fortunes of the Serrailler family as to become immersed in the intricate crime story. This latest in the series follows various betrayals of trust at different levels, and Hill invests the domestic plotlines with as much gravitas, care and attention as the murder at the novel’s core.
Serrailler’s life is increasingly complicated and we start to see just how his self-absorption affects those who love him and depend upon him; he is no stereotypical flawed maverick detective, he is simply a flawed human being, and this marks him apart from his peers in the genre. He’s not the easiest protagonist to get to grips with either; he’s elusive and this provokes different reactions in readers who seem to either be intrigued by, or frustrated by, his emotional sleights of hand. Personally I like the ambiguity of his character and the way Hill allows other characters to hold the centre-stage, building Serrailler in a slow but sure reveal.
The theme of this novel is terminal illness, and how different people respond to this emotional trauma; it is genuinely moving and thought-provoking, and builds upon events in previous novels to create a very satisfying episode in the Serrailler saga. Susan Hill’s crime stories stand out for their multi-faceted nature and if you do not normally read this genre, you will be pleasantly surprised by her unique perspective. Hers are stories to take your time with, and savour. Rating: ***
Vintage Books, 2012, ISBN 9780099499343