Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill

I must be feeling nostalgic for England this week; two posts in a row on British books! This one caught my eye because I used to read Susan Hill when I was in my twenties, when she was writing rather good, creepy ghost stories. I had lost touch with her career for some time, and was quite surprised to see a library recommendation for a Susan Hill... crime novel? Well, I had to read on and find out.

On the face of it, The Risk of Darkness is just another British police procedural, a genre which has its attractions for me when I just need to relax my brain. I landed in the middle of a series, which is always a bit disorienting, but the main characters got sketched in pretty quickly so I wasn't lost for long. There is the usual loner hero; they are generally reserved and private men, whose aura of unattainability and rugged, low-key sexiness has the women round them like flies, and Simon Serailler does not disappoint in that respect. One thing I found strange was that some of the other characters assumed he was gay, and I just couldn't find any explanation of that in this book. Was there something about his personal appearance and manner? All I learned of him was that he has white-blond hair, not generally an indicator of sexual orientation in my experience.

As I got deeper into this novel, I realized that the main character was, in fact, Death. This is not the usual murder-solved-in-the-third-to-last-chapter formula; without spoiling the plot for you, let me just say that you don't have to wait too long for the big catch of the novel. This particular criminal is just part of a dance of death that weaves through the plot, not all attributable to crime by any means. To those characters lucky enough to survive, death brings change and sometimes renewal.

All this weaving and bobbing makes the novel a little fragmented in places, as you're trying to follow several plot lines at once (this may be improved by reading the series from the beginning!). Once you see the unifying element of death, it's much easier to perceive everything falling into place. With short, punchy chapters, this novel reads briskly and easily, so I'm putting it in both the "beach read" and "good" categories. If you like your crime with a British flavor, check this one out of the library, but if your idea of good reading is P.D. James, you might find it a little lightweight.


stacy said...

You mention ghost stories, and I'm on it. Have some of her earlier books on my wish list. Haven't heard of this author before today.

Sandra said...

I've loved all of the Simon Serailler books by Susan Hill and read each one as they come out. We get more of the personal life of the detective than in most police procedurals and I like that. I do hope you consider reading the others, in order if you can. They are worth it. Thank you for reviewing this author, most people don't know she's got a mystery series going.

fairyhedgehog said...

I recently discovered the Ian Rankin Rebus books and I'm hooked on police procedurals. These sound good and I'll give them a try.

moonrat said...

my mom is a huge fan of this series, although i've never read any. i'm thinking about checking out the first one, despite the fact that i've never really been into mystery. i hear these are pretty character-driven (as you cite).