Monday, September 19, 2011

{review} simon serrailler

Susan Hill - The 'Simon Serrailler' series:
And, still to read: The Betrayal of Trust (2011).


For a long time there was a silence so complete, so absolute, that he did not know if he could ever breach it, ever utter again, ever be able to say another word to her for the rest of his life. The silence was a distance and a time span as well as the absence of sound. It was a space he did not think he had the nerve or the skill through which to travel. 
This is one of the most curious series of police procedurals that I've read. They are completely addictive. This is less because of their crime element (in general, it was pretty easy to pick the villain) but because they are more like a family saga with an overlay of a traditional mystery. In broader terms they are also like reading about the life and crimes of a particular type of English urban society.

The books are very quirky: the hero is not only an unlikely policeman, but also a person to whom one warms only diffidently. Every time one gets fond of a character, this is almost a sure sign that they will either become minimalised in the narrative or disappear (by means fair or foul) entirely. One is kept on one's toes the whole time in this series hoping that one's current interest doesn't suffer authorial assassination!

Hill is good on making one think about how her characters suffer: she is good, one might say, at grasping the human element in crime, whether the perspective be that of the criminals, their victims, or - most touchingly portrayed of all - the victims' families and those left behind ("Regret was part of the fabric of her life": Pure in Heart). The settings possess an urban edginess: Hill likes to peel the layers off society to reveal the grim situation - the "fetid world" (Shadows) faced by the urban poor in a seemingly pretty and affluent English cathedral town.  

Of course you have to suspend belief that so many colourful crimes could occur in one place; of course policeman surely don't act like that; it is a measure of the quality of Hill's writing that you begin to not care about these things and to lose yourself in her story-telling. The writing is excellent. I am in considerable awe of a writer who can maintain high standards throughout a series. On the whole I think #1, The Various Haunts of Men, will remain my favourite, just because it was so astonishingly rule-breaking in its approach to the crime novel. That feeling of shock lingers a very long time. I am greatly looking forward to reading the next one (The Betrayal of Trust) soon.

3 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I didn't like The Various Haunts of Men at all, partly because I didn't like Serrailler. He was billed as the detective, but the woman (can't remember her name) actually did all the legwork and then didn't get the credit. Who did? Why, the chilly, handsome detective, of course. Not appealing for me. I also thought it was casually sexist and sometimes even racist. The fact that it was mildly predictable didn't bother me, as I agree that the writing was good, but the other things irritated me so much that I haven't gone back for more of the series. Maybe I should have, if it works in some of the loose ends!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I should probably tell you that he doesn't get any easier to warm to as the series continues. As he gets promoted - very easily - higher and higher, he seems to solve crimes by driving around the city giving pep talks. The family stuff, for me, made it worth continuing (and the writing). Nevertheless, I think the 2nd one is worth reading (some quite interesting themes on how one protects those completely unable to protect themselves), but it has one of those pesky endings that requires one read #3 A.S.A.P., so maybe you'd better stop at #1. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hmm, with that in mind, I think I'll stay away. I grumbled so much about the first one, I'd be a glutton for punishment! But I'm really glad you liked them, and I know plenty of others who do as well. I think I'm in the minority here.

    ReplyDelete

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