The Risk of Darkness and The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill
13 October, 2009
I first picked up Susan Hill‘s crime series featuring DCI Simon Serrailler purely for it’s beautiful title, The Various Haunts of Men. I think at that time I was going through a phase of reading Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, so Susan Hill’s book caught me by surprise because it was unlike any other modern crime novel I had ever read. There are some shocking twists and it was definitely more atmospheric and creepier than some of its fellow crime thrillers. I then followed it with The Pure in Heart, the second in the series, which left me disturbed and terrified, although Hill’s book is not a horror. So it took me a few years to go back and get her third in the series The Risk of Darkness. And when I finished it, I went straight out and got her fourth, The Vows of Silence, from the library. They were that good. And also perfect for Carl’s R.I.P. IV Challenge.
I don’t know what it is about her writing, but she does creepy really well. There is a pervading sense of unease underlying all of her novels. Even though they are set in Lafferton, an idealic cathedral town with its choir and friendly neighbours, Hill dots her fictional landscapes with modern problems, sink estates, hoodies and all the other little terrors that modern city dwellers deal with everyday. The cosy clashes with the uneasy, and it’s not a comfortable read.
I like her detective Simon Serrailler too. Of course, he’s handsome, blond and way too attractive to women. But he’s a flawed hero. He can’t commit, he’s a bit of a loner and has a prickly personality with a quick temper. Hill’s books in the Serrailler series are emotive rather than descriptive, psychological rather than physical, and she likes to shock her readers. She is unafraid of voicing dark thoughts which we normally bind tightly deep within ourselves and are too afraid to reveal just in case it lets out something unsightly that we can’t quite control. Hill has said she is interested in exploring the effect of violence and crime on people and society and she does this exceptionally well.
But then she is the acclaimed author of The Woman in Black which has spooked countless fans. I’m still undecided as to whether I should see the play or read the book first.
And I have been reading lots of lovely reviews including those by dovegreyreader scribbles and Stuck in a Book about her latest book Howards End is on the Landing which is Hill’s account of spending a year abstaining from buying books and reading only the ones from her TBR shelf. Sounds like something I need to do.