The Shadows in the Street, Susan Hill
Over the past few months I have been slowly reading my way through Susan Hill's mysteries set in the English cathedral town of Lafferton, and I have finally come to the fifth and last (so far). Hill has announced on her website the publication of the next book in November, and I have already pre-ordered my signed copy.
The mystery in this book again revolves around a serial killer. For a small cathedral town, Lafferton has more than its share of serial killers, and I was thinking that they are rare in older mysteries, which usually have one main murder, and then sometimes the killer strikes again to silence a witness or avert suspicion. In Strong Poison, when Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey are theorizing about murders, Harriet says, "She's a person with a monomania - no, no - not a homicidal one. That's dull, and not really fair to the reader." Serial killers seem to be a more modern phenomenon.
The killer in this book is targeting prostitutes. Lafferton has a growing problem with prostitution, including the trafficking of young girls from Eastern Europe. This is of course a very real problem in America as well as England, which Hill explores through several characters. The most compelling is Abi Righton, a single mother of two who wants to escape the streets. She appears early in the story and becomes the focus of much of it.
As in previous books, much of the story also focuses on Simon's sister Cat, actually my favorite character. Cat is now a single mother herself, struggling with her medical practice and her three children. In addition, Cat is caught up in conflict over the Cathedral parish, where a new Dean and his wife are making sweeping and unpopular changes. Ruth Webber, the Mrs Dean, is so abrasive that she has won the nickname "Mrs Proudie," and the tensions definitely invoke Anthony Trollope and Barchester. But the conflict, between evangelical and more traditional Anglicans, reflects a very real situation in the Church of England today. Cat is firmly on the side of tradition, ritual, liturgical music - and I would guess from this book alone that Susan Hill is as well.
Hill ended the last book (The Vows of Silence) on a bit of a cliff-hanger. Simon, taking the initiative, followed an impulse to seek out someone from his past, a woman he had pursued who had rejected him, to see if she was now open to a relationship. I expected to find out fairly quickly in this book what happened next, but Simon is absent from Lafferton for much of the first part of the book. We learn the resolution of the cliff-hanger from a postcard Cat receives, which I found a definite anti-climax. Yet as with the first book, the rich cast of characters made up for that, and for the absence of Simon himself. I think I'd actually miss Cat much more than Simon at this point.