This is the third book in the mystery series by U.K. author Susan Hill involving Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler and set in fictional Lafferton, a Cathedral city in the South of England.
As in the previous two books in this series, although there are crimes aplenty committed, the focus is mainly elsewhere. In this case, the author explores what effect death has on people, particularly with respect to their relationship with God.
DCI Serrailler is called to another district to help after a young child has been abducted, since the case is similar to one he grappled with a year previously. The police get lucky this time; someone actually saw the car of the perpetrator, along with a bit of a license plate. When the car is seen on the road, and the police give chase and find the missing child in the trunk, Simon is convinced they have found the serial killer responsible for all of the area’s missing children. But they need to find the bodies to be sure.
Meanwhile, Simon’s sister Cat, a doctor, has had some patients whose lives soon intersect with Simon’s as well. Max Jameson is a distraught husband who is losing his wife to a rare disease. Max cannot face life without his beloved Lizzie; watching her deteriorate before his eyes is devastating. Ironically, although his wife has Variant Creutzfeld-Jakob (Mad Cow) Disease, it is Max that seems to be turning psycho. Cat, who is Lizzie’s doctor, desperately tries to help Max prepare for what is to come.
Jane Fitzroy is the new Anglican priest whose task it is to give solace to those whose family members are dead. Between the families who have lost children and Max, she has her hands full, and she feels inadequate to the challenge. And being a woman makes her especially vulnerable to those who go mad over the perceived injustice of God.
Discussion: We still don’t know much about Simon, the protagonist of this series. We have learned that he is 36, attractive to women, aloof, often preemptory with underlings, self-absorbed, sometimes cold and arrogant, and afraid of commitment. He is repeatedly assumed to be gay, so we can conclude that there is something in his appearance or demeanor or even just his solitude and secretiveness that give this impression. Finally, he is extremely close to his sister Cat, calling her “the one person in the world by whom he had always felt unconditionally loved, the one person he trusted and to whom he had always been able to tell anything.…” More details about him come out with each book in the series. And frankly, I’m not enamored of him. It’s an interesting problem for authors, I think: how do you make a character likable but human at the same time?
Evaluation: A number of questions are left unanswered in this book, and ultimately I felt a bit less satisfied at the end of this book than with the previous two. Nevertheless, I shall soldier on with the rest of the series, lest I jeopardize my reputation as an obsessive-compulsive series reader.
Published in the U.S. by Vintage, 2007