The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

4 September, 2012

My first exposure to Susan Hill was through her Gothic Victorian horror, The Woman in Black. Well, not exactly. I first heard about it. Then I went and somehow ended up reading her Simon Serrailler mysteries as I’m a long-time mystery reader. There was something very different about her crime books compared to everything else I had read up until then. They were creepy, atmospheric and very disturbing. I remember how shocked and disoriented I was after reading the first book in the series, The Various Haunts of Men. The focus wasn’t so much on the mystery but on the social dissection of her characters and the cathedral town in which they live, Lafferton. I found the novels strangely riveting even though they left me feeling decidedly uncomfortable. And of course, the enigmatic Simon Serrailler, the ubiquitous sleuth but one without any vices except for his inability to commit.

The Shadows in the Street is the fifth volume of Hill’s mysteries featuring Simon Serrailler. I have to admit my main reason for reading these books is my crush on Serrailler but I think I’m one among many infatuated readers. Hill manages to give out little morsels of information about him without revealing anything. Apart from being a detective inspector, he is also an artist, a triplet and loves his sister’s kids.

In his fifth outing, Lafferton Cathedral is facing a fissure as a new Dean tries to make changes in the traditionally close knit community. Simon’s sister Cat is still grieving for her husband but is trying to rebuild her life through her continued work as a GP, her participation in cathedral affairs and in trying to maintain the fracturing peace amongst her friends.

When local prostitutes start turning up dead, the police begin to fear a serial killer is on the loose and Serrailler is recalled from his holiday sabbatical to tackle the problem before it gets worse. As Lafferton is a small town, people are becoming fearful and Serrailler must untangle the killer’s modus operandi before he kills again.

Hill’s mysteries remind me a lot of the wonderful crime dramas on telly such as Silent Witness which examines our society through crime. Although gruesome and disturbing, society’s crimes provide an insight into the troubling aspects of our lives which we often try and brush under the carpet. In Simon Serrailler and his family, Hill provides the control, the ordinary family with its share of happiness and sorrow with which we try and weigh the good against evil. Her descriptions of a modern religious community is also nicely balanced with the emotional support each member of the community receives and the complicated and often petty relationship problems that are ever present in such a diverse community.

More than other crime thrillers, Hill’s mysteries are a commentary on the urban encroachment of modern life and the widening gap between the increasingly menacing reality of the outside world and the intimate safety of family and friends. And she does this to chilling effect.

More please!

9 Responses to “The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill”

  1. Carl V. Says:

    I have yet to read Susan Hill, although Woman in Black has been on my to read list for a long time. Shows you how out of touch I am with her work though as I had never heard of this series. I can certainly understand the crush and the attraction to a series like this. I’m finding something similar in my devotion to Louise Penny’s novels over the last month.

    I really need to check out Silent Witness. I’m a big fan of Emilia Fox. I’ve liked her since seeing her play a lead role in the BBC film version of Rebecca several years ago, and her narration of various Agatha Christie books is outstanding.

    • sakura Says:

      I was just thinking of what to read for R.I.P. VII and thank you for reminding me that I have Louise Penny’s first book on my shelf!

      Regarding The Woman in Black, I recommend that you read it when it’s dark and cold outside to get the maximum effect:) And I do hope you give both the Simon Serrailler books and Silent Witness a try. I’m totally hooked on both of them!

      • Carl V. Says:

        I will, and I do appreciate the Silent Witness reminder as I had just seen something about it online the other day and then it quickly left my memory. I didn’t even remember that this was the Fox show I had seen by the title until I clicked on the link you put in.

        Some books are definitely meant to be read on cold, dark nights.

  2. Mystica Says:

    I’ve only read one Susan Hill and it was very dark for me. Maybe I should get on to it again since everyone is very enthusiastic about this author.

  3. Can’t get enough of her work and the way she puts things, love it! Thanks for a great review and another title to add to the list.

  4. Chinoiseries Says:

    I didn’t even know that Susan Hill wrote a crime series… it sounds like a range of books that I need to immerse myself in.

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