Tag Archives: Simon Serrailler

The Shadows in the Street – Susan Hill

I mentioned in passing the other day the fact I sadly still have yet to meet Susan Hill who, no pressure, is one of my favourite living writers. I am still waiting for the afternoon tea we once discussed (see comments here). Anyway, it was not seeing her that reminded me I hadn’t reviewed The Shadows in the Streets, the fifth in her Simon Serrailler series which I am devouring slowly as I don’t want them to run out. Susan Hill is one of those authors who seem to be able to turn her hand to any genre, and in her crime novels have become one of my favourites, even if we did have a few bumpy starts, and this was no exception to the rule.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Lafferton is a city in which the levels of prostitution have been rising. This has not gone unnoticed by the people of the city especially as the girls seem to be grouping closer and closer to the centre of town, possibly due to a rise in younger girls who may have been trafficked in. One person has noticed this in particular and has decided to take advantage of the seeming abundance of women, buy killing them. Initially what seems to be a one off incident is followed by another and it seems Lafferton has a serial killer on its hands, yet it’s most esteemed (well in some circles) Detective, Simon Serrailler, is getting away from it all in the tranquillity of a Scottish island, his peace and quiet is soon to be shattered.

Prostitution and trafficking are two very tricky subjects to handle by any author. There is the danger of adding a moral compass to the subject or in some cases preach about it. Initially I was slightly worried that this may go down that route as Hill introduces a new Dean at Lafferton Cathedral along with his wife, who seems to have some very moralistic opinions of the work of these girls and their effect on the city’s image, I needn’t have feared though. We soon see through Cat Deerbon, the local GP and Simon’s sister, that this woman is not what Lafferton, its cathedral or people want as some kind of pompous vigilante.

In fact The Shadows in the Street really looks at the reasons behind why these women are prostituting through some of its characters. Yes, some of them are doing it for the next fix of a drug, which is often seen as one of the stereotypes, yet why have they got into a situation where they are dependent on drugs? Some of these women end up doing it in the hope for a better life be it through choice, or in some cases not. We see these women’s plight and how some of them manage to gain power and independence through it, whilst some end in a spiralling situation. In every case these are not just nameless one dimensional prostitutes, just as they are one just faceless victims of a murder, these women have their own stories and we empathise with their situation. I found this an incredibly powerful aspect of the novel.

Someone had left a newspaper on the bench. There was a photo of the girl in the green jacket. Missing Prostitute Chantelle Buckley, 17.
Abi looked away. Why did they have to do that? She wasn’t a prostitute first, she was a girl, just a girl, no need to label her. Would they do that to her? Abi Righton, 23, prostitute. She shook her head to clear the words out of it. That wasn’t her, she was Abi Righton, mother of two, Abi Righton any bloody thing, and the same with Chantelle, same with Hayles, same with Marie. Just people.

Of course this is a thriller and designed to be devoured and read addictively offering escapism and chills and thrills. Fret not, if you are worried this is all sounding too heavy, as Susan Hill also provides all these elements, as well as a thought provoking read at the same time. Firstly I should say that I had absolutely no idea who the killer was until just before the very end (just when Hill wanted me to I suspect) when it dawned on me and due to what was going on in the book, which of course I won’t spoil, I got that really sick worried feeling. I was that engrossed. Indeed I was engrossed throughout as Susan Hill seems to know how to make the chapters just the right length and have just the cliff hanger ending that you find yourself saying ‘oh just one more chapter then’ until the whole book is finished. Secondly she also has an incredible power to make a book ever so creepy, as those of you who have read her ghost stories will know, and uses this to great effect to rack up the tension in her thrillers.

He had not overtaken her, he was not someone making quickly for home, with no interest in her. He was there, keeping behind, and nobody else was in sight or earshot. To her left reared up the dark outline of the Hill; to her right, the railings of the park. Houses were on the far side of that – she could not even see any lights, people had gone to bed by now.
She prayed for someone to drive by, for the gnat whine of the scooter, a late-night van, even a police patrol, even just one person walking a dog last thing.
But there was no one, except whoever was now a couple of yards behind her and closing in. She could hear breathing, a soft pant, in and out, in and out. Quiet footsteps. Marie broke into a run. The footsteps behind her quickened too.

The other element I like in the Simon Serrailler series, apart from the lead obviously though he wasn’t in this one that much to be honest, is the way I have come to know his family. I have followed them as relationships have created stronger bonds or had them broken, I have followed births and deaths, love and grief. Not to spoil anything for anyone who might want to start at the beginning (which you will want to do if you are anything like me and need order in your life where you can get it) but in this series how one character deals with grief and how a new incoming member of the family tries to bring two members back together very touching. It adds another level to the series I think.

I really enjoyed The Shadow in the Streets and once again Susan Hill has proved that the Simon Serrailler (who of course is another Simon S so I am bound to like him) series is one which has both those brilliant elements of being gripping and being thought provoking. I am a huge fan of Susan Hill in whatever genre she writes, I do think that with her crime novels we get the best of her literary writing and character driven plots as well as the dark and gothic chilling tones of her ghost stories, a perfect combination.

I am now very keen to read The Betrayal of Trust and see what happens next in Lafferton, before that though I am being very brave and bringing Susan’s modern classic I’m The King of the Castle as my choice for the final episode of the first series of Hear Read This next month, eek – will my co-hosts like it? Will I? Back to Lafferton though, who else is a big fan of the Simon Serrailler series? Who has yet to try it and have I tempted you?

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Books By The Bedside #4

It’s time for me to do a little sharing of what I am reading, and of course ask you all to do the same, with my latest ‘Books by the Bedside’ post. I have to admit after my break away and the utter lack of reading while I was there I did come back and have a small period of readers block. That seems to have cleared now thankfully and I am back on reading form. Phew!

One of the books that got me out of a funk, and I am still dipping in and out of, was ‘Adrian Mole From Minor to Major’ which is a collection of the first three volumes of his diaries (‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾’, ‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Albert Mole’ and ‘True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole’) written by Susan Townsend. I was look at books that would get younger people reading, to deliver a presentation for that job I didn’t get sadly, and so dug these out for a re-read. Well, I have been in hysterics! I forgot how funny, and how rude, they are and it is amazing that they haven’t aged, despite the fact they were 30 years old this year they read quite currently.

The second book was also one that I picked up to dip into while I had the small reading block. Nancy Mitford’s essays ‘A Talent to Annoy’ was a book I spotted last week in the library, the perfect place to wander when you have no idea what to read, and almost whooped with joy when I spotted as it is really hard to get hold of. They are perfect quick sharp reads for when you only have five minutes spare and her dry and wry humour just gets me every time.

I am also currently reading two other books. This is very unlike me but let me explain. I have been reading a very advance copy of Colm Toibin’s ‘The Testament of Mary’ which, as I am not religious, is taking me a lot longer than I expected as I keep having to go and Google all the references, like the story of Lazarus, that I know little of. Now when I was getting my head around all this I had a book sort, not ridding myself of any just manoeuvring them around, and I picked up ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker and read the first page… two hours later I was still reading, utterly hooked, and have now almost finished it but as I don’t want it to end I am back to Colm. Do any of you do that?

I then have two books that I am really keen to get to once these lovely reads are all over. I have not read one of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler novels in quite a while, the sixth comes out soon and I suddenly realised I was only on the third. ‘The Shadows in the Street’ was a purchase at an independent bookshop I will be writing about very soon. I weirdly had the fifth in this series but not the fourth and though they stand alone I am a stickler for reading in order.

Last, but certainly not least, is ‘Bringing Up The Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel. Now I admit I did say I was going to resist reading this until at least Christmas because I was so sick of hearing about it, then it was long listed for this year’s Man Booker, the hype went up and suddenly I was desperate to read it. I think it the fault of Anne Boleyn, I am fascinated by her and so that is the major pull. Oh and the fact that I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ of course.

So that is what is on my reading horizon, what is on yours?

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The Vows of Silence – Susan Hill

After reading something a little out there for me as my first read of 2010 and before I headed into the wonderfully bizarre world of Murakami I thought I would go with a book I could almost guarantee would be a straight forward read that I would enjoy. What could be better than the latest offering in a crime series you love, though as you may have seen yesterday the next one is almost out as Susan Hill is bringing out Simon Serrailler for his fifth outing. Back to his forth outing though with my latest read and a read that gave me a reaction I wasn’t expecting.

Susan Hill writes good crime, simple as, and ‘The Vows of Silence’ proves this once again. In the town of Lafferton a gunman is terrorising the inhabitant’s lives, with a particular penchant for younger women. Who is this killer and why is he killing what the police believe are random victims. You as the reader are party to the killer’s thoughts as these are interspersed within the chapters of the lives of the victims, though you are not aware who the killer is, unless you follow the clues very carefully. The fact that Susan Hill lets you get to know the victims in these novels adds an emotional twist, a particular murder of a single mother I found quite harrowing to read. I cared that she died; she wasn’t just another body in a crime novel. That in part is what makes this series special.

By this novel, the fourth instalment so far, we are getting to know Simon Serrailler better though having said that he still remains some what of an enigma, maybe its more we know the people around him and their reactions and thoughts of him. We know his family, co-workers and the few people of Lafferton that he socialises with, unless of course Susan Hill kills them off and these books do have a high death toll, this one being no exception. In fact is was one story about one of the main characters partners becoming terminally ill which actually pushed me over the edge and made me weep, seriously a crime novel having that effect!

This latest in the series I think is the most stand alone of the books since the The Various Haunts of Men the first in the series and the first book I ever blogged about.  You could read the rest alone the latter two, The Pure in Heart (which I cannot believe I have never reviewed on here, but I haven’t) and The Risk of Darkness are quite linked though I shall give no more away. In this book we meet some new faces, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Helen and Phil even if there is a tragic end, and a face from the past comes back into Simon’s life. Like any other back stories you will find yourself soon up to scratch though in my humble opinion I would read them in order as it will hit you harder emotionally. It was the emotional force of some of this book that I wasn’t prepared for; either that or I am getting softer and weepier in my old age.

This is a great series and so far I think, though it could be because it’s the most recent one that I have read, this is my favourite of the series. It’s a gripping and psychological thriller that has a very tender heart in the centre of it. I don’t know of many books in the genre like that other than another of my favourite authors the wonderful Kate Atkinson. I am already looking forward to the next Serrailler book and have of course added it onto my wish list, its out in a few months, not that I am hinting.

Have you read any of the Serrailler series? What other crime series would you recommend that can grip you with its thrills and its heart?

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