Reginald Hill

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"The Stranger House"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)

The Stranger Hill by Reginald Hill

Multiple award-winning author Reginald Hill, (the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award as well as the Golden Dagger for his Dalziel-Pascoe series), is widely read and admired in both the UK and US. He lives with his wife in Cumbria, England, the setting for The Stranger House, and while he goes out of his way to assure readers that this tale and the characters who people it are figments of his imagination, he also writes, "...just because I have made it all up doesn't mean it isn't true."

This is a historical mystery, a novel of amateur detection, a ghost story and gothic romance with bits of Norse mythology and religion thrown in for good measure, along with some superb character studies and fine commentaries of village life in England's Lake District. A beautifully written novel, The Stranger House is permeated by an eerie ambiance filled with shadowy touches of the supernatural.

Two strangers with widely disparate backgrounds are brought together in the small Cumbrian village of Illthwaite with the common goal of seeking information about their ancestors who both had ties to this town. Samantha Flood, an Aussie from Sydney, is about to began her graduate studies in mathematics at Cambridge. She has planned to take the time before school begins to uncover the mystery surrounding her grandmother who died when Sam's father was born. Samantha, an energetic up front young woman who says what she feels to the point of occasional abrasiveness, is haunted by her grandmother's history. As a timid twelve year-old girl, her grandmother was shipped off to Australia with other boatloads of orphans as part of a horrific child-relocation program sponsored by the Catholic Church. When it was discovered she was pregnant, she was tormented by the nuns until she finally died in childbirth. The only identifying information her grandmother had on her when she got off the ship was a piece of paper on which was written the word "Illthwaite" and the name Sam Flood. Since everyone assumed the girl's name was Sam Flood, that's what she was called and that is who our 21st century heroine is named for.

Miguel Ramos Elkington Madero, called Mig by friends, has also come to Illthwaite for information about the past. The young man has experienced a number of supernatural episodes during his lifetime, including stigmata, where his hands and feet bleed and cause him intolerable pain. He has also sighted a ghost-like apparition on more than a few occasions. Mig initially took these incidents to be a sign of a calling to the priesthood, but he has since learned otherwise and consequently left the seminary. He journeys to the small village as a historian interested in the persecution of Catholics, especially Catholic priests, during the period Henry and Elizabeth Tudor reigned. He also wants to find the link between an ancestor, his namesake, who sailed with the Spanish Armada and was washed up on the Yorkshire coast and a Catholic Illthwaite family, the Woollasses. The family's Elizabethan ancestors were recusants - Catholics who practiced their religion during an era when doing so meant certain persecution, torture and frequently, death.

The somewhat sinister villagers obviously know much more than they reveal to the two young intruders, who both stay at the local pub/guest house called "The Stranger House." Mr. Hill takes us on a mysterious, often spooky journey spanning several centuries and introduces us to various narrators who tell us their individual tales which eventually all converge and have a tremendous impact on the present. The historical background material and the Norse mythology are fascinating and alone make reading this novel worthwhile. Reginald Hill is a consummate storyteller which is the icing on the cake. The Stranger House is a must read for anyone who loves a tad of ambiance and much originality along with their mystery, thrills and suspense.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 19 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Stranger House at HarperCollins

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Bibliography: (with links to

Stand-alone Novels:

Dalziel & Pascoe Series

Joe Sixsmith Novels:

Originally written as Patrick Ruell

Movies from books:

  • Dalziel and Pascoe (37 episodes, 1996-2006)
  • A Pinch of Snuff (1994)
  • The Last Hit (1993) (based on The Long Kill)


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Reginald HillReginald Hill was born in 1936 in West Hartlepool, County Durham. He grew up in Cumbria. After a few years of Army Service he to St. Catherine's College, Oxford where he earned a B.A. in English. Hill taught secondary school and college until 1980, when he decided to pursue writing full-time.

Reginald Hill has written over forty books in many genres, from historical novels to science fiction, widely published both in England an the United States. He has received Britain's most coveted mystery writers award, the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement, as well as the Golden Dagger Award for the Dalziel/Pascoe series. He also writes another mystery series featuring Joe Sixsmith for St. Martin's Press, and pens thrillers under the name Patrick Ruell.

He lives with his wife, Patricia (Ruell), in Cumbria, England. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014