A Question of Identity – Susan Hill

Is it sacrilegious to admit that I don’t read Susan Hill’s Simon Serailler novels for the murder plots anymore? Maybe it’s because Hill has a long & distinguished career as a novelist rather than a genre novelist that I find the atmosphere of the cathedral city of Lafferton & especially the family dynamics of Simon & his family so much more absorbing than the mystery & the investigation.

In the latest novel, A Question of Identity, I may have lost interest in the murder plot because I felt I knew who the murderer was from very early on & for once, I was right. One of the characters just never rang true from the moment they were introduced & I just knew that I’d found the murderer. I’d read Audrey’s post at Books as Food & I can see that Audrey feels as I do. The family relationships have become more compelling. I don’t see this as a reason to stop reading the series. After all, Simon is a policeman. If he abandoned his job & concentrated on his art, the books wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. But then, I’m afraid I find Simon the least interesting member of the Serrailler family. I loved the early books when his mother was alive & I find the female characters so much more interesting than Simon & his tentative, tortured relationships.

I suppose I should mention the detective plot at some point though. Elderly women living in sheltered accommodation are being murdered. The murderer has no trouble entering the houses, he doesn’t sexually assault his victims or steal anything. He arranges the women in a chair facing a mirror & strangles them. Eventually a link is made to a similar series of murders that took place some years earlier. The novel opens with the court case that led to the acquittal of the suspect in these murders. Alan Keyes disappeared after the trial & was never heard of again. Police were sure he was guilty but his defence lawyers had been able to throw doubt on an eyewitness’s testimony. Once the connection is made to this earlier case, Serrailler & his team are chasing a phantom. Keyes has been given a new identity & they have few clues to go on & get no help from the authorities. They set up an elaborate sting that helps them to find the killer.

While all this is going on, life in the Serrailler family is as complicated as ever. Simon is in love with Rachel, who loves him in return but isn’t free. Her husband is dying &, although he has given their relationship his blessing, she feels the guilt & strain of the situation. Simon’s sister, Cat, is struggling to cope as a single parent after the death of her husband. Her teenage son, Sam, is uncommunicative & silent. Her daughter, Hannah, is excited about the possibility of acting in a film. Molly, a medical student who lives with the family & helps with the children, is struggling to cope with the events of the last book, The Betrayal of Trust, when her life was at risk. Cat is also concerned about the future of her work as a doctor at a local hospice. The financial future of the hospice is in doubt & Cat feels undermined by the Board as she tries to ensure that its valuable work can continue.

Simon & Cat’s father, Richard, has always been a taciturn, difficult man. His second wife, Judith, has made a difference to all their lives &, after some initial resentment, Simon has grown to love her. Richard & Judith’s relationship appears very rocky & Judith’s refusal to confide in Cat is another source of concern.

All this family drama is fascinating & it’s what kept me reading the novel. I’ll look forward to Susan Hill’s next Simon Serrailler novel for the continuation of the Serrailler family saga above all.

12 thoughts on “A Question of Identity – Susan Hill

  1. It just had to be him, didn't it? 🙂 I think there are probably a lot of people who are following this series (and looking forward to the next book!) for the same reasons we are.


  2. I'm starting to think they should be catalogued as family sagas rather than mysteries! I found I was skimming over the sections insode the killer's head to get to the next installment of the family drama.


  3. I was at a Susan Hill event a while ago, where she mentioned that her readers tend to read *either* her Serrailler books *or* her other novels. Obviously some bloggers do both, but I have to admit that I haven't been tempted to read any of these for the smallest second… but I do love her lit fic novellas!


  4. I've just finished reading this book and like you, although I like to know 'who done it' the family characters and relationships are far more absorbing, I love the descriptions of the town and Cat's home, life and family. In the first few novels Simon was more interesting than he is now, perhaps because somehow, for me anyway, Cat has become more central than he to the stories:)


  5. There's obviously enough to keep us all reading, isn't there? This wouldn't be the first mystery series that I look forward to because of the characters rather than the puzzle.


  6. Simon, I've read both & I don't think I have a preference. The things I enjoy about the Serrailler novels are the same things I enjoy about her literary fiction or the ghost stories – the writing & the characters. I know crime fiction isn't your genre but you do love a novella & many of SH's books are perfect for you there.


  7. I think we should start lobbying SH for a new series focusing on Cat! I think Simon's police team are less interesting now than they were in the earlier books. There was Freya of course but also Nathan who turned up in this book. Simon seems to have become more remote from his colleagues. Did you notice that he kept sloping off on his own to have a coffee & think it all through? Hardly the teamwork that was evident in the earlier books. He'll be a PI walking the mean streets before we know it.


  8. Merry Christmas David, it's good to hear from you. Yes, we seem to agree on the strengths of the series. I'll keep reading it for the same reasons as you. If I want a puzzle rather than character development & atmosphere, there are plenty of Golden Age authors I can turn to.


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