Friday, August 31, 2012

What We're Reading: Susan Hill mysteries

Once again I had recourse to Aunt Agatha's advice, and recently began on the Simon Serrailler mysteries by Susan Hill. Hill is best known, however, not for her mysteries, but for a book she wrote in 1983, The Woman in Black. It is a ghost story with such impact that it was adapted as a play by Stephen Mallatratt and has been in theaters in London (and elsewhere) since 1988. Most recently, in February of this year, the story became a motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe, formerly (and always) known as Harry Potter. She has also written a variety of other novels, including a sequel to Daphne Du Maurier's classic, Rebecca, titled Mrs. De Winter.


On her website, Hill says,
I had never thought of writing crime novels because to me those had always meant ‘detective stories’ and although I enjoyed reading them, I knew I would be no good at the problem-solving sort of story with a series of dropped clues and a surprise ending. But the crime novel has become a serious literary genre over the last few decades and I realised that it presented the sort of challenge I wanted. My aim was to look at issues in the world around me and contemporary life–which I have not done in my novels before. I also wanted to know not ‘who dunnit’ but much more importantly, WHY? What motivates a criminal? Why does someone murder and perhaps not only once?

Hill succeeds admirably with this series set in a small cathedral town in the south of England, but if you are looking for books in which the detective ties up each crime neatly by the end of the book, she is not for you. In fact, Hill defies many of the traditions of the serial mystery writer: She kills off people you think will be major characters who will continue from book to book (and usually they are your favorites); her detective, DCS Simon Serailler (a tall, cool, enigmatic blond), fails to solve a mystery by the end of one book, then picks it up again at the beginning of the next and figures it out halfway through that one; and her focus is wide, including the relatives, friends and love interests of her detective, as well as the personal stories of half a dozen others in each book, sometimes including the significant others of both the victims and the criminals.

It is these character studies that keep you coming back for more--you want to know what happens to these people, about whom Hill makes you care. Although her books are not quite as minutiae-filled as author Tana French's books, I think it is that same attention to place, person and detail that makes them appealing to me.

There are seven books to date, beginning with The Various Haunts of Men and ending with The Betrayal of Trust, and a new book is coming out later in the fall. Can't wait!

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