Sixteen years ago, young Harriet Lowther disappeared. She was waiting at a bus stop but she didn’t get on the bus. There were few witnesses & no clues as to what could have happened. Harriet was a good student who loved music & sport. She was happy at home & had plenty of friends. There seemed no reason to believe she’d run away but, if she was abducted, she vanished without trace. Now, after a storm that washes away earth & rocks on the Moor near the cathedral city of Lafferton, a shallow grave has been discovered. The remains prove to be Harriet’s & Simon Serrailler is put in charge of the investigation. When another shallow grave with the remains of another young woman are discovered in the same area, the case becomes more complicated because this young woman wasn’t reported missing. Are the two deaths connected?
Cold case investigations are the most difficult to pursue. Memories fade, witnesses move away or die. Simon is also faced with cutbacks in the police force that mean he’s virtually investigating on his own. He’s a loner, as all the best fictional detectives are, so that doesn’t really matter. But there’s a mountain of evidence to sift through about Harriet’s disappearance & the need to identify the second victim is vital. When a TV producer agrees to do a reconstruction of the afternoon of Harriet’s disappearance, Simon hopes that it will jog someone’s memory.
When Jocelyn Forbes discovers that she has motor neurone disease, she knows how horrible her inevitable death will be. She decides to investigate assisted suicide although her barrister daughter, Jenny, is horrified at the suggestion & initially refuses to accompany her mother to a clinic in Switzerland. Although Jocelyn changes her mind about the Swiss clinic, she is determined to choose the time of her death before her symptoms become too distressing. When she’s contacted by a local doctor who seems to know all about her experience in Switzerland, she decides to investigate further.
Simon Serrailler’s sister, Cat Deerbon, is a GP who also attends a hospice. The hospice is in financial trouble & Cat is increasingly concerned that the work they’re doing is being compromised by the constraints they’re suffering. Another trustee at the hospice is Sir John Lowther, Harriet’s father, & he decides to ask Leo Fison for help with fundraising. Fison & his wife have just opened a nursing home for dementia patients but he’s willing to take on the task & immediately comes up with several ideas to keep the hospice going.
Susan Hill’s novels are never just about the investigation. There’s usually a social issue that threads through the narrative. This time, it’s euthanasia. The characters in the book explore all sides of the question &, because it’s a question that has resonance for Simon & his family because of events in earlier books in the series, it becomes part of the wider tapestry. That’s what I especially enjoy about this series. Apart from the puzzle of who killed Harriet & who the unidentified woman is, there’s a real sense of a family & a community. Simon is an aloof character although in this book we see him as vulnerable when he falls in love, virtually at first sight. Naturally, the course of Simon’s love is not going to run smooth as although the woman he loves reciprocates his feelings, she’s not free. Cat is struggling with being a single parent after her husband’s death & is finding the demands of family & work more difficult. None of these personal issues is resolved at the end of the book & I can’t wait for the next one to find out what happens to the Serraillers next.
I read very few detective novels last year, I just wasn’t in the right mood. At the moment I have new novels by Cath Staincliffe, Marcia Muller & Cynthia Harrod-Eagles on my desk, all continuations of series I’ve enjoyed. Hopefully reading The Betrayal of Trust has given me the kickstart I need to put a little mystery into my reading again.