The third Susan Hill novel I’ve read this year came about when I pulled “Read a Crime or Thriller novel” from the box for my third book in the year long Russian Roulette Reading Challenge that I am taking part in at Sandown Library. I’d always thought Hill was most celebrated for her sparse, short horror tinged works of which “The Printer’s Devil Court” was an example but I am much preferring her crime series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler of which this is the second out of nine full length works.
Here, Hill feels like a very different novelist as she writes at length and allows the plot considerable time to unfold. “The Various Haunts Of Men” had Serrailler pretty much in the background and I felt he was one of the least interesting characters but he’s pushed centre stage for this follow-up published a year later.
This is a very readable novel but I can’t help but feel that the author is toying with her readership. Last time round the crime was a long time coming, here, it happens quicker but is far from the only thing going on, which makes it unusual compared to most other police procedurals where the solving of the crime dominates. There are momentous events happening in the Serrailler family and Hill is prepared to devote as much time to these as the unfolding of the case, but, and here’s the thing, it doesn’t frustrate, it doesn’t feel purposely slowed down and it all feels relevant. The odd crime reader may feel a little cheated but I personally think her style has enriched her characterisation and her feel of Lafferton, the small town where these novels are set which has already endured in just two books a serial killer and this time the disappearance of a nine year old boy on his way to school.
I’m enjoying the family stuff and look forward to seeing how plot seeds sown here will develop in subsequent novels. However, I’m still not buying into the main character’s love life, his hot and cold emotions are being developed as a flaw but it feels a little tacked on, as it did in the last novel, and as a result a little unconvincing.
Susan Hill likes to provide surprises along the way and has once again achieved this. She takes risks, not so much with characters, as in the debut (if you have read it you will know what I mean) but here with the actual case. Things may not go exactly the way the reader expects it to and I like that.
I’m also liking that it feels like a traditional police procedural and yet it’s not a traditional police procedural. I can see the parallels with her horror writing as it is what is under the surface which most unsettles. I’m fascinated to see how this series continues.
The Pure In Heart was published by Vintage in 2005