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by Susan Hill
Chatto & Windus, April 2010
384 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 070117997X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sometimes reviewers get a sense of déjà vu – and that it would just be easier to recycle an old review and change the name of the book. That's my feeling with Susan Hill's latest Lafferton mystery.

What you get from Hill is a traditional mystery with a male cop whom she clearly adores, his pillar of the community family and a very hefty dose of the class divide.

In the past it's seemed like it’s always the old working class characters get bumped off or are the baddies. We don't see many aristocratic conmen or middle class fraudsters in Hill's books.

The main divergence this time is in the shape of tenacious prostitute Abi, who's determined to find her way out of her predicament and to go to college and to provide a home for her kids.

Abi has reason to worry, as prostitutes are being killed on the streets of Lafferton, and it's not clear whether it's a serial killer at work.

Meanwhile, the Serrailler family continue their angsty progress through the books. As the book opens, detective Simon is taking a break on a remote Scottish island. His sister Cat is mourning her late husband. But at times she seems far more concerned by the unwelcome changes at the cathedral (these happy-clappy evangelicals are sooooo vulgar…) Her children are still dealing with the bereavement. And there's an undercurrent of tension between Simon and his new stepmother . . .

Hill writes elegantly (as you would expect from an author with her considerable track record) and creates characters who stay in the mind. If you like the old-fashioned detective novel where there's no overt blood and guts to worry about, you'll be safe in her hands.

But the old-fashioned is the sticking point for me, not helped by the liberal doses of class and religion that are served up indigestibly in each of the books. Hill does what she does well, but she's not bringing anything new to the genre – and she certainly wouldn't get the attention she does if she wasn't well known for her other work.

Oh, and can I provide a shout-out to the Scottish farmer who does to Simon what some of us have been longing to do since the start of the series!

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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