Review: The Comforts of Home by Susan Hill

Book 9 in the Simon Serrailler Series. I had read this previously (during the time I was not reviewing on here) and, when this came up at the St Andrew’s Book Club, I felt I should read it again (especially seeing as I’d recommended Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series to the others). Suffice to say, I realised, rapidly, as I turned the first few pages, that I had forgotten most of it. What a shame, as it’s a book, and a series, well worth remembering and savouring.

This is crime fiction, police procedural, set in the fictitious town of Lafferton, which is, I believe, in the English Midlands, although the reader is never told the precise location. Simon Serrailler is a senior police officer (superintendent by this time) with a family. He’s not married with children, as is Ruth Rendell’s Reg Wexford, but he is loved and supported by his GP sister, Cat Deerbohn, both his brothers-in-law and his niece and nephews. His and Cat’s relationship with his father, Richard, a retired hospital consultant, however, is strained. Simon was supposed to have followed the family doctoring tradition, and, indeed, started at medical school, but he joined the police instead. This is not the only issue with his father… but no spoilers.

This book was about two unconnected murders, one in the remote Scottish island of Tarantsay, and the other in Lafferton but some time ago. Some members of the Book Club didn’t like this, but the two murders did connect, in a very intense way, actually, in Simon’s emotions. Susan Hill never gives us straight cops and robbers.

I think I’m correct in saying all of us enjoyed this book, although my husband awarded it only 3.5 (out of 5). He said it was ‘light’, yet ‘disturbing’. I found it intense and absorbing and gave a strong five. This is why:

The title. The Comforts of Home, how reassuring, how… comforting. It makes you wonder why on earth anyone would write a book about such a setting, doesn’t it? You have to read it.

The loving family. Cat is there for Simon when he is undergoing horrendous surgery (following the outcome of the previous book… again no spoilers) and school-leaver Sam seeks out his uncle Simon on a remote Scottish island when he is struggling to work out what he should do with his life. Cat’s farmhouse, her cats and dog, her cooking… and Simon’s reciprocity… counter-balanced dead bodies, arson and the less edifying aspects of police work. But the love within this family is not all flannel; when Richard returns from France, where he has exiled himself following unpleasant incidents in previous books, ill, Cat takes him in without question, and Simon also helps nurse him, even though he is rude and demanding.

Susan Hill understands her characters better than any author I know, how they will feel and what they will say, beyond the obvious, beyond the second obvious… well on to the third. As a result, her characters behave to each other in a mature way, anticipating how the other would react to comments which are trivial or palliatives. After Simon has his surgery, Cat’s husband, Kieron, does not say ‘But at least…’ All her characters are very well-off, eating and drinking in expensive restaurants – a bit of remote sybaritic living for the reader.

There are two more Simon Serrailler books following this one, by the way, and many short stories, some of which I have reviewed over the last month or two. Having read the last in the series, I can say… without giving too much away… that there are unlikely to be anymore.

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