Murder mysteries are by definition, explorations of darkness, evil. After all, we are talking about murder here, not accidental death. And so necessarily the murder mystery novelist must do what few of us relish doing— pull up the front door mat, and show us the unseen and obscene disgusting things that crawl around right under our noses, unnoticed.
Hill is very good at such explorations and revelations, and yet maintains a ray of hope in her characters that are Christian, particularly Cat Deerborn. For example, towards the end of ‘The Pure in Heart’ we have both a burial service and a Christening service back to back in the Lafferton cathedral for members of Cat’s family. It includes this prayer:
“Bring us O Lord, at your last awakening/ into the house and gate of heaven./ To enter into that gate and dwell in that house/ Where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;/No noise or silence,but one equal music;/ No fears or hopes, but one equal possession;/No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;/ In the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end.”
There are really two major characters in these novels– Cat Deerborn and Simon Serailler, sister and brother. One a doctor with young children and a husband, one a CID, a big dog policeman in Lafferton who has never married. Just the sister brother dynamic makes these novels worth reading all by itself.
In this particular novel, we are dealing with a kidnapping of a nine year old boy, and what the failure to find him quickly does to the rest of the family, which comes unraveled, not surprisingly. There is also a sub-plot about a newly released ex-con looking for work, which really has nothing to do with the main plot, which is the search for the boy. And there is one more subplot, from which the book takes its name— the story of Martha Serailler, a bedfast 26 year old sister of Simon and Cat, who is basically a vegetable and has been since birth, having no control over any of her bodily functions really. The question is raised— why is she alive? What is her purpose in heart? What is she thinking? She can respond to color and light and sound. She can smile when someone holds her hand, but cannot talk. Is there a person trapped within that body who is perhaps like a little child? This story line is poignant, and how the rest of the family treats her speaks volumes about their various characters.
I will not spoil the stories for you, but I do think you will find reading Susan Hill very thought-provoking and valuable. Though Hill does deal with darkness, her novels are on the whole not quite as grim as some of the James novels, precisely because she has some very positive characters in the novel which brighten things up from time to time.