Once is an anomaly, twice is the beginning of a pattern. Susan Hill carries story or character lines over from one Simon Serailler novel to the next, which is not a bad thing, but what it does mean is: 1) you need to read the series in order, and 2) you’d better read them all. This particular novel has as its crime story, the story of a lone shooter who is an expert marksman and apparently he has it out for young women about to get married. This story line could be called the spine of this novel, running from beginning to end and of course the mystery is figuring out who it is, and then stopping him of course. I must say, after only four novels, poor little ole Lafferton is beginning to look like a cesspool for psychopaths.
Of more interest to me in this novel is the subplots dealing with the catastrophic illness of Cat Deerborn’s husband Chris, the development of the character of the Anglican priest Jane Kilroy, who is definitely on Simon Serailler’s mind, and most importantly, the story of a young man named Tom who is converted to Christianity dramatically, and wants to save his sister and mom, whatever it costs him. This subplot becomes more complex when mom Helen begins to date an atheistic school teacher who, while a nice person, is nonetheless too much like Dawkins when it comes to Christianity. Tom of course does not want his Mom to marry such a person, however nice (she had lost her previous husband who died). This story line has plenty of juice and pathos to it, and I found it more interesting than the main plot. On top of all this, Simon and Cat’s father has found a new lady to date, and Simon has issues with anyone displacing his mother in the life of his father. In short, Cat and Simon are normal people with normal problems, and full marks to Susan Hill for showing as much interest in her characters and subplots as she does in the main story line.
Some writers are plot driven, some are character driven, some are description masters, Susan Hill writes with balance in all these categories, though as I have said before, no one can spook you out with her powers of description better than P.D. James. This particular installment of the series runs to 438 pages, and is a very quick read. I intend to work through the entire series while I am here. I am grateful to Richard Bauckham for getting me started on this series with The Betrayal of Trust, last Fall. As you can see…. it is an addictive read. On to the next installment.