Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Shadows in the Street - Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s series of crime novels featuring Simon Serrailler is one of my favourites. I read more British police procedurals than any other type of crime fiction. I suppose I’m the typical mystery reader. There’s a theory that readers enjoy crime novels because they impose order on a chaotic situation & that’s certainly one of the attractions for me. At the beginning of the book, there’s a murder or some other crime. The detective & his team investigate, exposing the lives of the victim & their family & friends. The clues are assembled & a pattern emerges. The crime is solved & order is restored.

The best series have a sense of place & a cast of characters that I want to meet up with every year or so when a new book is published. Martin Edwards’s Hannah Scarlett, Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks, Ruth Rendell’s Wexford & P D James’s Adam Dalgliesh are among my current favourites. I’m almost as interested in their private lives as I am in the crimes they investigate. Simon Serrailler is a detective of the Dalgliesh type. He’s a loner, uninterested in committing to a permanent relationship. He’s an artist who needs both sides of his life, that of an artist & his work in the police force, to feel complete. Unlike Dalgliesh however, Serrailller has a family life. He’s especially close to his sister, Cat Deerbon, a GP who lost her husband to a brain tumour a year before.

Cat has three children, a busy practice & is also involved with a local hospice & the church choir. The books are set in Lafferton, an imaginary Cathedral city. Simon has a flat in the Cathedral close & the Church plays an important role in the books. I love the atmosphere of Lafferton. The Cathedral setting reminds me of some of my other favourite detective novelists – Kate Charles, D M Greenwood & Dorothy L Sayers. So, this series combines everything I want in a detective novel. An enigmatic detective with a family that I love reading about, an atmospheric setting in a cathedral town & an intriguing plot with many strands linking up very satisfactorily at the end.

The Shadows in the Street is the latest Simon Serrailler novel. Simon is on an extended holiday on a remote Scottish island after completing an exhausting case. Back in Lafferton, two young prostitutes go missing & are later found strangled. When another young prostitute disappears, speculation about a serial killer dominates the press coverage. Simon is called back to take over the investigation. When a young woman who is not a prostitute goes missing on her way to work & then the wife of the new Dean of the Cathedral also disappears, all the theories have to be reassessed.

One of the dead women, Marie, had a violent boyfriend, but would he kill the others? Then there’s Leslie Blade, a librarian who seems to be a textbook suspect as a serial killer. Single, a loner who lives with his disabled mother, he has a habit of going out at night with food & hot drinks for the working girls. He had befriended some of them, including the two murdered women, & the police think he makes an ideal suspect.

There’s also trouble at the Cathedral with the new Dean, Stephen Webber, & his domineering wife Ruth planning radical changes to the traditional services & the music. Ruth’s plan for a Magdalene Centre to help young prostitutes get off the streets involves Cat as a member of the organizing committee. Although she agrees that the young women need help, Ruth’s bulldozing attitude meets with some resistance from Cat & the more traditional members of the Cathedral community. Meanwhile, the police investigation into the murders seems to have stalled & Simon is under pressure from the Chief Constable & the press to make an arrest.

This is an absorbing mystery with many layers to the plot. The lives of everyone from Abi & Hayley, young women working on the street to feed their children, to Cat, a middle-class GP grieving for her husband & trying to move forward, are touched by these crimes & the investigation. Once you sit down with this book, put aside a few hours because you’ll want to keep reading just one more chapter.


  1. This sounds great. I also love crime fiction for the same reasons as you. I've read the first three in this series but not numbers four and five. I must get hold of them! Thanks.

  2. I too like detective books not because of an interest in "crime" but because, as you suggest, they have a reassuring structure, normally leading to a sense of resolution. I also agree with you that the personal lives of the investigators are often the most interesting part of books from this genre.

    I must admit I haven't read past the first couple of paragraphs of this blog post because I want to approach the latest Serrailler book without any prior knowledge of what to expect. I have been captivated by this series from the start.

  3. Harriet, I'm sure you'll enjoy the reast of the series. I think I especially love the cathedral city setting. The atmosphere is very Barbara Pymish although there's obviously less humour! David, I hope you enjoy TSITS when you get to it. I'm always surprised at how quickly I "catch up" with the characters in a series when it might be a year or more since I read the last one. I think it's a sign of a good writer if they can fill in the background for a new reader while also giving old readers enough reminders to orientate us quickly back in the world of the characters.

  4. Lyn, I have a copy waiting to read but I've sneaked a look ahead because I was reliably informed I have a cameo part in it, and great excitement because I do! I've asked who will play me in the forthcoming TV series because personally I think it has to be Meryl:-)

  5. Yes, I noticed your cameo DGR! Well, Meryl can play anyone in my opinion so I'm sure a Devon health worker would be a distinct possibility. Although the part might have to be expanded in the movie version.

  6. This is one author I've been meaning to read. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one; thanks