This is the seventh in the Simon Serrailler mystery series, quirky because Simon, who is Chief Superintendent in the British town of Lafferton, rarely makes an appearance in the books. Rather, these stories take a detailed and intimate look at the lives of those around Serrailler, whether his family members or those he is investigating.
In this novel, Serrailler is investigating a serial killer who targets elderly women. But we learn much more about the women and their daily lives and their families and friends than we do about Serrailler’s case.
Also, like previous books, the central character is actually Simon’s widowed sister Cat, and her struggles to raise her three children, the eldest of whom, Sam, has taken to bullying. Who is he, she wonders? Who, indeed, is anyone in this reverie about identity and how we define who we are.
Cat is losing her job because of budget cuts, and she must figure out who she now is without her career to define her. Similarly, Simon’s love interest, Rachel, is in a very precarious position that requires her to come to terms with her self-image. Cat and Simon’s stepmother has to deal with the changes in who her husband has become, and who she must be in response. And most critically, the killer has decided that the only way to achieve a sense of identity is to go on committing murders.
As the story winds up, we learn who the killer is, but not why the killer engaged in such bizarre rituals, or chose those particular victims. Nor is there any resolution to the identity crises facing the other characters. One assumes they will be taken further in the next installment. After all, one doesn’t read Susan Hill for the mysteries, but rather the ongoing psychological analyses she performs on her characters.
Evaluation: This book is even more unusual than the previous ones in that a whole slew of plot threads are left unresolved. This series is not for those who want a fast-paced carnival ride with well-hidden criminals and life-threatening close calls. Rather, these books call for a big cozy chair, afghan, roaring fire, and glass of Laphroaig, Simon Serallier’s warmer-upper of choice.
Published in the United States by The Overlook Press, 2012