Review of “The Risk of Darkness” by Susan Hill

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.

Rating: 3/5

Published in the U.S. by Vintage, 2007

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15 Responses to Review of “The Risk of Darkness” by Susan Hill

  1. Sandy says:

    No, no, don’t let us down Jill! I have found that protagonists (especially damaged ones) in series are alot like people in real life. Generally, the more time you spend with them, the more you learn about the way they tick, and get a chance to see what shoes they have walked in. And you become fond of them. (Or not.) I actually thought Lucas Davenport was a slime-ball when I first started reading the Prey Series, but now I wouldn’t have him any other way.

  2. Nicole says:

    I just looked and said, “Wow, another Susan Hill.” But now I see that you are caught in the grip of a series. One of these days I will get to The Various Haunts of Men.

  3. bermudaonion says:

    Hm, I’m not sure what to think of this series. I don’t have to LOVE the protagonist in a book, but I need to feel like I know them.

  4. I think I liked this one a bit more than is the next that I had a bit of an issue with. I will be curious to see what you think of it…

  5. It is a pleasure to discover your lovely blog and to read this review. i bought the first in the series for my Aunt and she absolutely loved it but I have not yet got around to it myself! It was was very useful to read your thoughts.

    thanks for sharing


  6. Julie P. says:

    This series sounds intriguing. I really enjoy these types of books when I get around to reading them. Should make them more of a priority!

  7. Margot says:

    You mentioned there is a focus in this book on death’s effect and the relationship with God. I find that very interesting in a crime novel. Most mysteries have lots of dead bodies but very little discussion/focus on it’s effect, other than tied in with the motive. I often think about that as I read mystery stories. Not many authors seem to include those thoughts. Or maybe it’s just the authors I’m reading.

  8. softdrink says:

    I’ve told you before, the correct term is series whore.

  9. EL Fay says:

    Have you read any books from Faye Kellerman’s Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series? I’m not normally big on crime novels but I really enjoy these. (The first one’s not that great but she improves later on.) Peter is an Orthodox Jewish LAPD detective and Rina is his fiancee and later his wife. The books are really big on God and religion but not in a preachy way. There’s a really powerful contrast between the gritty and violent world of crime that Peter is daily immersed in (Kellerman never sugarcoats anything) and the religion he finds refuge in. Plus, it’s really neat reading about Judaism and I’ve learned a ton.

  10. Staci says:

    Well, I hope you enjoy the future books more than this one. But I do understand that OCR problem for sure!! 😀

  11. I’ve never read anything by this author… how many books are in the series?

  12. Jenners says:

    Well, you wouldn’t want to ruin your OCD reputation! I feel responsible for you reading this series and it kind of taking a bit of a downturn. It sounds like Hill really pushes the bounds of what you expect … as I’ve only read the first one (still), I’m becoming curiouser and curiouser. (Oops … wrong book.)

  13. diane says:

    Susan Hill is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to try. I do own several of her books, but now that I learn they are probably part of a series, I need to find out the order.

    Sorry this book was just so so.

  14. Belle says:

    Great review. I loved the first book in the series, but still haven’t gotten around to the next book (and no excuse, either, because I actually have a copy in my bookshelves). I was already starting to feel in the first one that Simon was a bit of a cold fish, not exactly someone you could warm up to.

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