Recently, Alex alerted me to the blog of novelist Susan Hill which has been on my list of daily lookups ever since, although I’ve only just added it to my blogroll. Susan always has something interesting to say about books and publishing, along with snippets about her life in rural Gloucestershire. Today, she’s blogging about the way book blogs are taking over from newspapers and periodicals as a valuable source of book reviews and recommendations. This is certainly true for me. As one of the compilers of review links of historical fiction and non-fiction for the Historical Novel Society Online Newsletter, I comb the main newspaper book sections each week and can’t help noticing what a closed-in little world it is: the same few books tend to be covered, and there’s sometimes an impression of mutual back-scratching or bitching when novelists or non-fiction experts review each other’s books. This might a good career strategy but it doesn’t help the average reader who’s looking for an objective opinion from someone whose judgment she can respect. Anyway, in her latest post Susan proposes an annual prize for the best book of the year as judged and voted for in book-related blogs. Good idea.
Susan is the author of such novels as I’m The King of the Castle, Air and Angels, The Woman in Black, Mrs de Winter and The Mist in the Mirror. She also runs a small publishing company, Long Barn Books, which publishes, amongst other books, the winner of its own annual first novel competition.
Until a few weeks ago, I’d only read The Woman in Black and Mrs de Winter but I’ve since become addicted to her latest venture, a series of novels featuring DCI Simon Serrailler.
I read the first, The Various Haunts of Men, in two days – unusual for me as I don’t get nearly as much time for reading as I’d like (who does?) but this was so absorbing I made time for it and started the next in the series, The Pure in Heart, almost at once. Odd, because I’m not a fan of crime fiction. But there’s so much more to these novels than the criminal investigation. There’s the setting, which is a small cathedral city, its surrounding countryside and nearby metropolis, all atmospherically described. And there are the characters. Simon Serrailler is an enigmatic cop somewhat in the manner of P D James’s Adam Dalgleish. He’s good-looking, urbane and can be charming but he has a cold streak that prevents him committing himself to a relationship. Tantalizing. And the other characters are equally interesting and well-defined, even the crime victims and the various members of the Serrailler family who all have their own difficulties and dilemmas. That’s what keeps me turning the pages as much as a desire to see the crime solved: the intense human interest offered by convincing, well-delineated characters and settings. Very much in the Trollopian (Anthony and Joanna) tradition, I’d say. I’ve just bought the third novel, The Risk of Darkness. I had to, you see, because the second ended on such a cliffhanger…