Source: Review copy
Publication: 3rd October 2019 from Chatto & Windus
In this, the tenth Simon Serrailler crime novel, Simon must engage with his own demons as Lafferton struggles to cope with a series of crimes that threaten the sanctity of hearth and home.
On the face of it DC Simon Serrailler has had time to recuperate after the violent incident that cost him his arm, and nearly his life. He is back in harness at Lafferton CID, but is spending his spare time high up in the cathedral roof, making drawings of the medieval angels which are being restored.
Lafferton is going through a quiet patch, so far as crime is concerned, until one rainy night two local men open their front door to a couple seeking shelter. A serious error of judgement in the investigation puts Simon’s reputation on the line and calls into question how full his recovery has really been.
In her new role as a private GP, Simon’s sister Cat’s medical and counselling skills are tested by terrible and unexpected events at the homes of two very different Lafferton women. Simon and Cat’s unreliable father, Richard, has returned to live nearby, in a luxury apartment for the well-heeled over 60s. He’s soon up to his usual tricks.
It is a while since I last read a Simon Serrailler novel, but it was easy to slide back into the characters and I didn’t feel that I needed any more backstory to enjoy this most recent novel.
Susan Hill writes her characters with great clarity and sympathy and as ever, it is the exploration of character that drives this book.
Simon Serrailler has returned to work and we can see at first hand that he is still struggling with PTSD and the impact on his mental health of the recent trauma he has suffered after losing his arm. Simon’s sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, now working in private medicine with an on call at home Doctor service, has a new patient who is worrying her. Nothing she can quite put her medical finger on, but she is worried that a new mother is not bonding with her baby and she is concerned for the welfare of both the mother and the child.
We meet two couples who are blessed with being able to live surrounded by the best of everything and who have the good taste to invest their money in art works. But that’s exactly why they have been targeted by thieves who know how to fence the best of these artefacts and have developed quite a sophisticated routine for gaining access to the homes. When one of the burglaries goes tragically wrong, a decision made by Simon will come back to haunt him.
Susan Hill’s writing is, as ever, full of beautifully observed moments, is rich in character depth and explores relationships within families especially well. The complicated relationship between Simon, Cat and Kieron, Cat’s husband and Simon’s boss is particularly well explored.
I actually shuddered as I read the scenes pertaining to Cat and Simon’s ageing father, Richard; a man I hope never to meet the likes of.
Hill weaves her detective and medical mysteries into the fabric of this family with smooth strokes and an easy style. Her crimes show the human cost of wrongdoing and the title could not fit any better.
I did though, think that the narrative ended slightly abruptly – I actually wondered if I had a copy that missed the last couple of pages. But no, true to form this is a book where resolution is not the key issue; rather the characters and their situations are what matters.
Verdict: Finely observed, beautifully written, character driven crime fiction of a high order.
Susan Hill has been a professional writer for over fifty years. Her books have won awards and prizes including the Whitbread, the John Llewellyn Rhys and the Somerset Maugham; and have been shortlisted for the Booker. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Honours. Her novels include Strange Meeting, I’m the King of the Castle, In the Springtime of the Year and A Kind Man. She has also published autobiographical works and collections of short stories as well as the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels. The play of her ghost story The Woman in Black has been running in London’s West End since 1988. She has two adult daughters and lives in North Norfolk.
Photo credit: Ben Graville