"The Risk of Darkness"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAR 6, 2009)
"He had always loved being a policeman but something about the life was beginning to frustrate him. There were too many restrictions, too many political-correctness boxes to be ticked before getting on with a job. Was he making any difference to anyone? Had a single life, improved, even marginally, because of what he did?"
Important note: This novel should be read only after completing the first two in the series: The Various Haunts of Men, and The Pure in Heart. If you do otherwise, you will not understand the arc of the story or appreciate the development of the characters. In addition, the author reveals information that you would rather not know if you decide to go back to the beginning.
In The Risk of Darkness, thirty-seven year old Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler is suffering from mental exhaustion. He is bored, frustrated, and eager for a new challenge. Fortunately, his avocation, drawing, brings him great satisfaction. In fact, his work will soon be exhibited in a London art gallery. In addition, Simon derives enormous pleasure from spending time with his sister, Dr. Cat Deerborn, and her family. Since he has never formed any serious long-term attachments, he is beginning to wonder whether he will ever marry and have children of his own.
Also haunting Simon is the lack of resolution in one particular case, the tragic disappearance of a schoolboy named David Angus eight months earlier. One day, Detective Chief Superintendent Chapman, of North Riding Criminal Investigation Department, calls Simon asking him to assist with another case of child abduction. Simon and Chapman's team join forces, but without forensic evidence and eyewitnesses, they have very little to go on. When yet another youngster disappears, there is a witness, and at last the authorities dare to hope that they may catch the perpetrator.
Another subplot deals with Max Jameson, whose beautiful wife, Lizzie, is dying from Variant Creutzfeld-Jakob (Mad Cow) Disease. Max cannot face life without his beloved Lizzie; watching her deteriorate before his eyes is devastating. Cat, who is Lizzie's doctor, desperately tries to help Max prepare for what is to come. This and many other tragedies will have wide-reaching and catastrophic ramifications.
Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series is one of the most original, wrenching, and unforgettable of all the police procedurals to come out of England. In The Risk of Darkness, the writing and dialogue are as sharp as ever, and the fast-paced narrative is absolutely mesmerizing. All of the characters are superbly delineated, from the main character to those who make only brief appearances. Simon has many admirable qualities: He is devoted to his sister and mother; he is a dedicated office of the law; and he is an extremely gifted artist. Unfortunately, he is also self-centered, reclusive, and cold towards those women unlucky enough to fall in love with him. An Anglican priest named Jane Fitzroy may change all that. She is fiery, independent, and beautiful, and Simon is soon infatuated with her. Simon's sister, Cat, is altruistic and compassionate, but her husband, also a doctor, is suffering from burnout. His dissatisfaction is generating discord in a marriage that, until now, has been rock solid.
In The Risk of Darkness, Susan Hill explores many thought-provoking themes that she introduced in her earlier works: What is the nature of evil? How can the loss of a loved one bring a person to the brink of despair? What price do homicide detectives pay for their exposure, day after day, to the worst offenses that human beings can commit? Is there any way that true justice can be meted out to child murderers? How do members of families and communities support and, in some cases, undermine one another? The author challenges us to shake off our complacency and take a hard look at the harsh realities of our contemporary world. One may quibble that The Risk of Darkness has too much heartbreak and too little joy. That may be true, but the book's strengths compensate for the sadness that the story generates. Fans of Simon Serrailler will eagerly await the release of the next installment, The Vows of Silence.
- Amazon readers rating: from 17 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Enclosure (1961)
- Do Me a Favor (1963)
- Gentlemen and Ladies (1968)
- A Change for the Better (1969)
- I'm the King of the Castle (1970)
- The Albatross : stories (1970)
- Strange Meeting (1971)
- The Bird of the Night (1972)
- A Bit of Singing and Dancing : stories (1973)
- In the Springtime of the Year (1973)
- The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story (1983)
- Air and Angels (1991)
- The Mist in the Mirror (1992)
- Mrs. de Winter (1993)
- The Service of Clouds (1997)
- Listening to the Orchestra (1997)
- The Boy who Taught the Beekeeper to Read (2003)
- Farthing House: An Other Stories (2006)
- The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story (2007; September 2008 in US)
- The Beacon (October 2008; May 2009 in US)
- The Small Hand (2010)
Simon Serrailler Mystery Series:
- The Various Haunts of Men (2004; 2006 in US)
- The Pure in Heart (2005; 2007 in US)
- The Risk of Darkness (2006; March 2009 in US)
- The Vows of Silence (2008; October 2009 in US)
- The Shadows in the Street (2010; September 2010 in US)
- The Magic Apple Tree (1982)
- Through the Kitchen Window (1984)
- Through the Garden Gate (1986)
- The Lighting of the Lamps (1987)
- Shakespeare Country Photographs (1987)
- The Spirit of the Cotswolds (1988)
- Family (1989)
- Reflections from a Garden (1995)
- Howard's End is on the Landing : A Year of Reading from Home (November 2010)
- One Night at a Time (1984)
- Mother's Magic (1985)
- Can it be True? A Christmas Story (1987)
- Susie's Shoes (1989)
- Stories from Codling Village (1990)
- I've Forgotten (1990)
- I Won't Go There Again (1990)
- Pirate Poll (1991)
- The Glass Angels (1991)
- Beware, Beware (1993)
- King of King's (1994)
- The Christmas Collection (1995)
- The Battle for Gullywith (April 2008)
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- Official website for Susan Hill
- Wikipedia page for Susan Hill
- British Council page on Susan Hill
- Vulpes Libris interview with Susan Hill
- Church Times interview with Susan Hill
- Reading Guide for The Various Haunts of Men
- Guardian review of The Various Haunts of Men
- Books to the Ceiling review of The Pure in Heart
- Eurocrime review of The Risk of Darkness
- Eurocrime review of The Vows of Silence
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Vows of Silence
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Shadows in the Street
- The official Battle for Gullywith website
- PopMatters review of The Man in the Picture
- Blog Critics review of The Man in the Picture
- The Guardian review of The Beacon
- The Telegraph review of The Beacon
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About the Author:
Susan Hill was born (1942) and raised in Scarborough, the seaside resort on the North East coast of Yorkshire. She attended the Scarborough Convent School from the age of 3. Her family left Scarborough for the city of Coventry in the Midlands when Susan was sixteen years old where she attended Barr Hill, a girl's grammar school. After taking A levels in English, French, History and Latin, she went to London, and King`s College, London University, to read English.
She published her first book just as she arrived at King's College. She received a great deal of, "mainly unwelcome, publicity for this along the lines of ‘Schoolgirl Susan writes sex novel’. It shocked both my school teachers and my parents and caused me much embarassment. It took me a very long time to get over the sudden exposure to fame, and to live down the notoriety."
After earning her degree (and publishing another novel), she took a job at a newspaper in Coventry. She wrote eight books between 1968 and 1974.
She won a Somerset Maugham Award for I'm the King of the Castle (1970); the Whitbread Novel Award for The Bird of Night (1972); and the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Albatross (1971), a collection of short stories.
In 1975, she married Shakespeare Scholar Professor, Stanley Wells. They lived in Stratford upon Avon, where he belonged to the Shakespeare Institute. There first daughter was born in 1977, shortly after they moved to Oxford for her husband's job. Two years later they moved to a rural cottage 5 miles outside of Oxford. Their second daughter was born premature and died 5 weeks later and there youngest daughter was born in 1985.
She has also written radio plays, a number of books of non-fiction and has edited several anthologies of short stories and many children's books.
In 1996 she started her own publishing company, Long Barn Books. She edits and publishes a quarterly literary journal, Books and Company, as of 1998.
In 1990, they moved to a farmhouse with 50 acres in the North Cotswald countryside, where they still reside.