When the Simon Serrailler detective series started, I was so impressed that I read each book as it came out. Here’s what I wrote back in 2008:
‘after reading The Pure in Heart, (Susan Hill’s) second Simon Serrailler novel, I was hooked on the series. The books are set in middle England, the characters are interesting, the author’s social commentary wise. What grabs me about them is that I have never read any crime fiction which is so victim-centred. The reader is left in no doubt that murder is an evil crime with far reaching consequences for all whom it touches. Very different from the high-body-count, solve-the-puzzle fiction which can be very enjoyable but is much less engaging. I found myself lying awake at night thinking about the events in these books …’
Yet after a few books I gave up. I was sick of Serrailler, with his (to my mind) infantile hang-ups about his father and his inability to commit to any relationship. With his brains, good looks and skill as a detective, he was interesting but not likeable. Picking up his story again with The Soul of Discretion I found that he hadn’t changed at all: ‘He loved her. But did he ever love anyone enough to let them make a permanent home at the centre of his life?’ Nevertheless I was soon gripped by the book and read it very quickly. It was just what I needed: a book you can’t wait to get back to and end up reading late at night to finish.
From the start, it’s clear that this will be a story about child abuse and therefore not an easy read. Simon is asked to help crack a particularly unpleasant paedophile ring by going under cover, posing as a ‘nonce’. This is probably the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. His induction into the work of the child protection squad makes him sick: ‘They dealt with child abuse every day of their working lives and it was beyond Serrailler to know how they coped with it.’ Yet Jed, in charge, is able to escape into music: ‘Dirty old river,’ he hummed. ‘I’d have given my back teeth to have written that song.’ By the end of the book Simon’s dangerous job is done, but at a terrible price. There are enough loose ends to make us hope for a further instalment.
As always in this series Simon’s family and their friends each have their own stories: his long-suffering girlfriend, the stepmother he at first resented but came to love and above all, his doctor sister, Cat. Cat is far and away the most sympathetic character. Readers of the earlier books will know what she has already suffered, but she continues with her caring work. Her love for her patients, her particular interest in the local hospice, palliative care and helping people to die with dignity are all sustained partly by her Christian faith. I can’t help feeling that Cat is the voice of Susan Hill.
I recommend this highly as a novel, not just as a work of crime fiction. It will be published tomorrow, October 2nd, by Chatto & Windus. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.