THE PURE IN HEART is the second of Susan Hill’s novels set in the English cathedral town of Lafferton and featuring the enigmatic Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler.
A little boy is snatched as he stands with his satchel at the gate of his home, waiting for his lift to school. A severely handicapped young woman hovers between life and death. An ex-con finds it impossible to go straight ... Haunting and truthful, gripping and convincing, THE PURE IN HEART is neither a thriller nor a whodunit, but a fascinating crime novel arising out of character and circumstance.
It’s been a year since THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN and DCI Simon Serrailler is still mourning the murder of DS Freya Graffham and their romance that might have been. While vacationing in Venice he’s summoned back to Lafferton as his handicapped younger sister Martha has fallen dangerously ill. As Martha’s condition deteriorates, the Serrailler family is forced to come to terms both with their own fraught relationships and the effect that Martha’s condition has had on them. At the same time Simon has to investigate the disappearance of a young boy from outside his own front door, a case that has no witnesses and no obvious clues. As Simon’s professional and personal lives spiral beyond his control, he’s forced to confront unpleasant truths about who he really is.
Having enjoyed THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN as a book that combined literary writing with a solid detective story, I had high hopes for this. I was disappointed.
Hill is great at middle class introspection and they don’t come more introspective than the insular, self-regarding Serrailler, who mopes for a colleague he never really dated. Whether you enjoy the book hinges on your interest in the dynamics between Simon and the rest of his family – particularly his cold and emotionally distant father, and his closer relationship with fellow triplet Cat who is heavily pregnant. All this is told from the prism of Martha’s illness and Hill does well in investigating the effects that such profound disability can have on the other family members and on other care givers. However this storyline is disproportionately important compared to the mystery which just disappears. The investigation goes nowhere and while Hill may well be making a point that not all investigations reach a conclusion, for a crime story it is a serious shortcoming.
Hill runs a third storyline about an ex-con, Andy, who is trying to go straight as a market gardener, only to find himself tempted back into a life of crime. Although this intersects with the mystery, the depiction of life on a council estate and difficulties of making an honest living border on trite.
The lack of resolution to the storyline combined with the bizarre re-emergence of one of Simon’s old flames towards the end of the book make for an unsatisfying read and I’m really not sure that I’m going to rush to read the next in this series.
This is a literary detective novel that’s so focused on the middle class introspection of its main character that it forgets to develop an actual mystery. Although the middle class angst is beautifully written, it’s not enough to hold my attention and I’ll be thinking twice before picking up the next in this series.
Cross-posted to books and bookworming.