Susan Hill – Pure in Heart (SPOILERS)
(2nd in the Simon Serrailler series).

DCI Simon Serrailler has to investigate the snatching
of a child while dealing with his own family problems.

I don’t usually do spoilers but I have a good reason to
make an exception here. I didn’t like the first in this
series so I am not sure why I tried another – and I certainly
regretted it! Part of the problem is that I find Serrailler
one of the most unlikeable protagonists I have ever encountered.
Maybe this just should not matter but I am not convinced that
Hill actually intends this bloodless, arrogant snob to be repellent
– maybe he is meant to be attractive.
But that is not the whole problem. Hill obviously wants to write
a sort of contemporary family drama – but it just doesn’t work
,for me anyway. Her family members/friends etc. seem heavily
stereotypical, uninteresting; her class perspective intrudes and jars.
All this might not matter so much – the same charges could be
levelled at much contemporary Britmyst – if the book had
other redeeming features – above all a good plot, a decent puzzle,
some humour. But it lacks any of these.
Indeed there is worse. And this is the spoiler. The basic plotline
(the snatched boy) is not resolved. Now I know this is realistic.
And I know in the hands of a great mystery writer it could
make for a great and tragic book.But Hill is not a great writer.
So I ended up feeling really cheated. And patronised. It is as if
she is saying – oh you silly mystery readers with your solutions,
grow-up – well I know not every crime is solved thank you!
I know life is not ‘like’ a mystery novel. No, if you intend to flout
the genre’s conventions in this way, to play with your reader’s
expectations than you had better be damned good – well Hill
ain’t no Christie (she’s not even a Holt!) so this device fails
miserably and just leaves the impression that the reason Hill
provides no solution is because she is incapable of writing
a book with a decent one.

(November 2007)