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I've now read the first three novels in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series. Two caveats are necessary, I think.
First (at least from what I have seen so far) reading the series in order is essential. That is doubly so for this novel and its predecessor, The Pure in Heart. These two books are, in truth, one story, published in two volumes. Second, don't expect a classic whodunit or a police procedural. Hill is more interested in the effects of crime on her characters, their families and the larger community than she is in the nuts and bolts of detection. The best comparison, I think, would be to some of Ruth Rendell's novels (especially her stand-alones) or to the Norwegian novelist Karin Fossum.
That said, I think these are terrific books: suspenseful, scary, psychologically astute, written in elegant, transparent prose. The protagonist, Simon Serrailler, is not 'likeable,' exactly, but he is intelligent, complex and interesting, while the (many) supporting characters are well drawn and deftly three-dimensional.
The Risk of Darkness is definitely the most somber of the three I've read so far, and in its primary perpetrator gives one of the most chilling depictions of human evil that I have come across recently. Yet Hill always leaves little glimmers of hope amidst the shadows, like votive candles flickering in a darkened cathedral. There is darkness, certainly, but not despair.
From a brief persual of the other reviews, people tend to either love or hate these books. I happen to love them and look forward to reading the rest of the series. Highly recommended.
Many reviewers of this and the previous two books have said that they really aren't crime novels at all, and I agree. They're more about the lives of people who live in a Cathedral town somewhere in England, with crimes, major and minor, seemingly to have been thrown in so that they could be published under the crime genre. The child abductions that start in book one continue in this book, but as the person is caught fairly early on in the story, the rest of the book seems to drift away and concern itself with other things. I found it somewhat slow going, with the police investigations secondary to peoples lives. There is very little action that takes place, and with no twist at the end to make me think I must read the next one. After three books, I still can't warm to Serrailler, and probably never would if I was going to read the rest, which honestly I don't think I will. All in all, and compared to other crime novels, this series has been a disappointment.
Much as I admire HIll as a writer, I have to say that this is the first book I've read in her Simon Serrailler series and I'm not sure if I would read any more. As others have said this isn't a detective novel in the true sense of the word, Instead of the story of the missing children - by far the most interesting storyline in the novel - taking central stage, it is solved pretty much half way through and offers no real closure in terms of the killer's motivation/modus operandi. Plenty of random crimes are included - a woman is assaulted and held captive, a doctor attending a case is mugged, another woman is murdered as a kind of throwaway element of the plot, Simon intercepts a robbery - and all this has nothing whatsoever to do with his work as a police officer! I didn't much warm to Simon - he is of course a cut above the average police officer being highly cultured and intelligent - (just like most of the fictional cops you come across in other words, Morse, Wexford et al) and the way he treats his ex lover made me like him even less - rushing away from a romantic encounter to get back because of some development in the case. Though what he actually does to solve it - or any other case is debateable. The killer is only caught because of sheer luck. If Simon has any dectective skills they are not on show in this novel. One thing is clear - Hill is not cut out to be a crime novelist. The writing is good but the book is frustrating as a standalone novel in terms of plot and structure and I have a feeling you would have to invest in buying the whole series to get any sense of plot continuity/closure.
Susan Hill is an accomplished author; her literature skills are second to none. However, I do agree with many reviewers that this ( and the two previous books) are not really crime thrillers- more everyday stories of townsfolk, with a bit of police investigation thrown in. Abduction is the main theme here and it carries on from book two. The protagonist is identified early on and other ‘by the way’ sub plots carry on alongside. None of the plots are dealt with in a satisfactory manner and there are so many loose threads that it becomes annoying. The author seems to be relying on readers to rush out and buy the next book in the series by leaving a few ‘cliffhangers’ (cliffhanger being a very loose description). I doubt I will be one. There are so many books in this genre that are far more deserving of being called crime.
Having read the first two of this long series, I soon realised that they are merely an excuse to write more, and more, and more....and half way through number three I know I won't be going any further with them. I don't like the dysfunctional middle class Serralier family; Simon is a cold-fish, his sister Cat is a Christian do-gooder, and their triplet brother Ivo is safely out of the way in Australia. Thank God. Their parents are weird, their sister is an early victim and all-in-all the entire family is pretty unlikeable. This is a sort of Aga-Saga for cops and doctors. The cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter seem to involve some woman or another bursting into tears. It's extremely tedious and rather lazy.
Two stars for being nicely-written, but the endless stereotyping ( Serralier drinks wine and cooks pasta, working-class scrotes, chavs and neds sup beer and eat jam and bread ) really is an insult to one's intelligence.
When I have limped my way to the conclusion of vol three I, too, shall be bursting into floods of tears. But they will be ones of relief at knowing I don't have to read any more.
This author and this series is definitely growing on me. The main characters are feeling familiar, almost like family, but still have some surprises up their sleeves. Now beginning to enjoy the rather slow start, with new faces that take a while for you to understand their part in the bigger story. Hill leaves you wondering what has happened to some of the characters from previous books, will they make an appearance later in the series? Leaving these loose ends is like jam to a wasp, I'll be back to check what they are doing. Recommended.
A long and unneccessarily drawn-out story which is neither a real crime drama nor a family saga. After reading the first book in the series, I thought that Simon Serailler would evolve into a really interesting character in those following, unfortunately, however, the author has launched him on the thoroughly unbelievable route of the soul-tortured police officer common to most modern crime novels. I won't be reading any more in this series.
Good books bear rereading and so the fact that I’m rereading this not for the first time would suggest that I, at least, think of this as a good book. I’m rereading the series but have chosen this one to comment on because it’s one of the most interesting in the series. It picks up the story told in Book 2, The Pure in Heart, about the disappearance of young David Angus. Here, there is a suspect and so it’s about the impact of this on that suspect’s family and neighbours. The effect on the mother is poignantly drawn and the way that the ripples spread to include the mother’s new husband and his family is sensitively presented. There are hints about motive but these are perhaps never quite unravelled; this is quite a courageous decision because crime aficionados are used to the ‘cut and dried’ resolutions. But if it doesn’t really happen here, then perhaps it more accurately reflects real life where motive very often remains hidden. It’s in the characterisation that I struggle most with; first of all, there is the stereotypical working-class shouty mother, the working-class rough diamond copper (who plays second fiddle), and the rather too saintly Cat with her welcoming farmhouse kitchen and her paddock. But it’s the character of Jane, the young woman priest, who (or should it be ‘whom’?) I find particularly interesting because very rarely have I ever felt quite so impelled to slap a character I feel is intended to attract the sympathy and empathy of the reader. As God’s representative on earth, and the person one would expect to mediate and interpret God’s wishes and intentions for the ordinary mortal, she does an immensely poor job. When the distraught, newly widowed Max demands answers (admittedly in a very hostile situation), she can only whinge about how tired she is, how her mother has been robbed, and how God knows best and that Max should find comfort in prayer. She doesn’t ever actually engage with any real argument about, for example, the idea of free will or anything else. It’s perhaps understandable in this particular case but this reader is left with the feeling that she would never actually move beyond platitudes anyway. I do like the character of Simon; as another reviewer has suggested, he presents as a narcissist and so, perhaps, I will continue to like him until I figure out why such a selfish and self-absorbed man is one who attracts so many people who immediately then fall for him either romantically or platonically. But Cat’s children (Sam and Hannah) are really well drawn – lacking any obvious saintliness, the squabbles are becoming frequent. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow almost more than any other of the characters in the three books in the series so far.
Curiously I can’t get excited about the protagonist, he’s fairly uninspiring and I think in real life he’d be the man you avoided at parties for fear of being bored to death.
The real flavour comes from the supporting characters, specifically his sister and her family. There is talk in this book of them decamping to Australia so I’m afeared for the next book being ‘the Simon show’.
The joy of these books is in the writing. Portentous and grand, the author evokes wonderful scenes of art and location, it almost feels like you’ve been transported to early morning Venice!
I expect intelligent prose and interesting plots and this book and series provide both. It’s not heartstopping gore by any stretch but miles ahead of the usual pulp fiction found in British detective novels.
I love the way Susan Hill writes, transporting you into the world she's created. My problem lies with the main character, I just don't like him. I really like the associated characters and all the sub plots that reflect the realism in the story but I find the main character maddeningly unlikeable. Perhaps I will come to like him more as the series continues.