Category Archives: Hill, Susan

Review of Three Simon Serrailler Novels by Susan Hill

If you would like to read these books for yourself, here they are:

Three Simon Serrailler novels, one after the other, were my Christmas present to myself.  Not cheap, as Kindle books go, but the workwoman (or novelist) is worthy of her hire.  They are the most recent of a series of eight, but I’m sure there’ll be more.

Simon Serrailler is definitely at the Waitrose end of crime fiction, as far away from Noir as you can get, yet too realistic, too human and too of this moment to be ‘cosy crime’.  We are told in great detail about the single malt whisky he drinks, the beer he takes in tasteful, understated pubs where he can be alone, what he eats, what he wears

Cup of Coffee

(c) Wikipedia

and how he likes his coffee.  In fact, during the course of the three books, gallons of filter coffee (no doubt Fair Trade and responsibly sourced with respect to the environment) was imbibed by all characters.  We hear about his quiet flat in the cathedral close with all white decor, succour for an unreconstructed loner, with few close friends, but who, nevertheless, is part of a loving family and who works well with police colleagues.  It was Lindsey Davis who said, some time ago, that fictional detectives seem to arrive in the world without families or friends; she gave her Falco a querulous mother, a ne’er do well father and sister and loyal friend, Petronius.  The Serrailler family however are loving and supportive, with Simon’s triplet sister, Cat, occupying as much space as Simon himself.

I’m really glad that I read the these books altogether because, although each one carried a separate detective storyline, there were other – equally important – threads that continued over all three:  Simon and Rachel’s affair;  the hospice running out of funds, with implications for Cat’s career and the Jocelyn/assisted dying theme; the deteriorating relationship between Richard Serrailler and his second wife, Judith; Emma’s bookshop.  In fact, having been carried along on a roller-coaster through ‘The Betrayal of Trust’, I felt quite cheated when I reached its abrupt end because, although the crime story had been concluded, these other issues hadn’t, but it was good to reconnect with them again immediately in ‘A Question of Identity’ and ‘The Soul of Discretion’.

For me, one of the best things about Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler books is the large number of sympathetic characters, about whom I want to read.  Cat is a treasure, without being a saint, and she, her situation and her life Hangman Gamestyle are totally realistic; the secret is that Susan has made her vulnerable, so gaining the reader’s sympathy.  Rachel, however, is a cold fish; I’m not sure if I want in here for the long term.  If I was to make a criticism of the Serrailler set up, it would be that there were too many characters, with people popping in and out of the main stage and some inevitable loose ends which do not get addressed.

The detective elements of the stories are well-constructed and tight, the first two books containing definite twists which I didn’t anticipate, and the third finishing with an escalation which took people and scenarios into unexpected directions.  Susan’s knowledge of police procedures is well understood and unobtrusive.  Also, she refuses to dole out crime cliches like the detective-who-can’t-get-on-with-his-boss-who-keeps-demanding-Results (with a capital R);  Simon Serrailler works well with both his chief constables.

Would I recommend you read Simon Serrailler, Dear Reader?  Yes, definitely.


Review of 'The Shadows in the Street' by Susan Hill

This is Book 5 in the Simon Serrailler series, detective fiction at its best, with well-drawn characters and a sound plot.  This was the sort of book, where, as in Agatha Christie, you have to pick the murderer from a limited number of characters.  (Btw, I guessed correctly!)

This story, as always, centred around the cathedral city of Lafferton.  Much is made of the fact that Serrailler eventually found his man through chance – which he did – but we, as readers, have moved on from wanting a Christie show-down in the final chapter, with everyone sitting around in one room making comments like “I say, Poirot…”  The plot still worked, very well.

Although the crime element concerns the murders of a series of prostitutes, the story touches upon the conflict arising when a new ‘happy-clappy’ dean arrives in the cathedral close.   Unlike many other authors who occasionally feature such things, Susan writes authoritatively about church issues, and with insight as to how church people feel, think and interact with each other.   The prostitutes in the book were also sympathetically drawn, especially plucky Abby Righton, who desperately wanted to give up the game, but couldn’t see how to manage it.

It is noticeable that detectives created in the ‘English school of murder’ tradition  (as distinct from Noir)  tend to have a cosy family set-up – think of Ruth Rendell’s ‘Wexford’, W J Burley’s ‘Wycliffe’, Alexander Maccall Smith’s ‘Mma Ramotswe’ and even Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’.   Serrailler has his loving (recently widowed) sister, ‘Cat’, his nieces and nephews, his tetchy father and diplomatic stepmother.  In fact, Cat features far more than Simon Serrailler himself, and I found myself welcoming her on to page each time.  Simon was, I think, supposed to appear remote, but actually comes across as rather sketchy in this story, and, if this had been the first book I’d read in the series, I wouldn’t have got to know him at all.  Other – complex and therefore interesting – characters were (wrongly accused) ‘Leslie Blade’ and the very weak dean, ‘Stephen Webber’, entirely manipulated by others around him.

Did I enjoy this book?  Oh yes.  I love detective fiction… possibly because I could never write it.  Did I learn much from it as a writer?  Well, possibly.