Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Risk of Darkness, by Susan Hill (hardcover, $24.95)

This is the third in the Simon Serrailler series, despite the fact that Simon was more of a secondary character to the heroine, Freya Graffham, in the first book, The Various Haunts of Men. With each subsequent book, we have seen more clearly both the warm heart and cold fa├žade of Simon Serrailler. The complexity of his character is the compelling and attractive feature of Susan Hill's books. In fact, Hill does a superb job of presenting not just Simon, but members of his semi-dysfunctional family as well: his doctor-sister Cat, his aristocratic father Richard, his peace-maker mother Meriel.

It is in Hill's detail, some eventually related to the story and some not, that draws the reader into seeing Lafferton as a real town with real people with real psychological and physical hurts. It is also Hill's signature style that she never over-explains her story. It may not be until a book or two later that the reader will find a hint about an unresolved story. It is not surprising for the author of the play and book The Woman in Black, famous for its ambiguity, to carry that ambiguity over to her other works. In many ways, her stories are strung out like a soap opera. For the most part, she gives the reader closure on the main story, but it is now obvious that she will be stringing out her secondary stories. Way to get people anxiously awaiting the next book!

The main story in The Risk of Darkness involves the disappearance of children from many different places in England. Unlike quite a few of today's thrillers, scenes of the victims' deaths are done off-stage and the descriptions are understated, making, quite conversely, the story more chilling. The killer is apprehended fairly early in the book, and the search for why makes the tale so absorbing. Secondary stories are about newly arrived C of E priest Jane Fitzroy, and the newly widowed and desperate Max Jameson.

Nothing is certain. All is about change and how her characters handle it. Hill is thoroughly capable of keeping her readers on their collective toes.

Note: Read her other books first.

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