Friday, March 11, 2011

Where The Small Hand led me

The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill

I had a post last month about Susan Hill's ghost story The Small Hand, which ended up being more about Howards End is on the Landing and where that book led me.  And now The Small Hand has led me to more of Hill's books.  When I was in Murder by the Book looking for it, I found one of her Simon Serrailler series.  I hadn't realized that she wrote mysteries. I flipped through the book and thought it looked like something I'd want to read, but because I was buying other books I virtuously put it back on the shelf.  That virtue didn't last long (book restraint rarely does), because I kept thinking that I should have gotten it.  And the next time I was in, I did.  The one I found on the shelf was actually the second in the series (The Pure in Heart), but due to my OCD book habits I have to read series in order. So I started with The Various Haunts of Men.  And within the first few pages, I knew I was right.  There's nothing like the feeling of discovering a new author, a new character - especially when it's a series and you can get to know the characters over time, watching them develop.

Like the St. Cyr series I posted about yesterday, these have a compelling main character, but also a wonderful supporting cast, especially his sister Cat and mother Meriel.  It's interesting that though this first book is labeled "A Simon Serrailler Mystery," Simon is absent for much of the book, and we only see him through other characters.  Though he is constantly discussed and described by other characters, there is nothing from his POV until very late in the book - so I don't feel I knew him as well as I do some of the other characters.

I love the setting of Lafferton, particularly the cathedral close.  Just the words "cathedral close" bring Trollope to mind, and knowing that Hill is a Trollope aficionado make me wonder if she chose that setting deliberately.  I saw on her website that she says to think of Lafferton in terms of Salisbury or Exeter - I added Barchester to the list.  Trollope quotes a review in his autobiography to the effect that his novels are like a part of England mined out and put under a glass dome, so the readers can watch the people of the book going about their daily lives.  I think Hill has something of the same gift.

I mentioned Hill on the Marzipan/Dorothy Dunnett list, because I thought there was something a bit Lymondish about Simon.  A couple of people responded that they really like this five-book series.  Reading that, I thought, wait, I only have four!  but I have to have the whole series!  Since I'm giving up bookstores for Lent, it was providential that this happened on Tuesday, Mardi Gras, so that I could squeeze a last ABE order in under the wire.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!