The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

Posted by on Oct 29, 2012 in 2012, 4 stars, Book Review, Susan Hill | 0 comments

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

Genre: Ghost Story (according to my library anyway)
Publisher: Overlook Press
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 145
Source: copy Library

The Short Version:
A painting of Venetian revelers holds a dark secret.

Why I Read It:
I’ve been a fan of Susan Hill’s crime fiction for a long time and I thought her ghost story The Woman in Black was very good. Halloween was a great time to give another of her ghost stories a try.

The Book:
From the publisher:

In the apartment of Oliver’s old professor in Cambridge, there a painting on the wall, a mysterious depiction of masked revelers at the Venice carnival. On this cold winter’s night, the old professor has decided to reveal the painting s eerie secret. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty…

My Thoughts:
Despite the title and the fact that every library I checked has this classified as a ghost story I don’t think I’d really call it that.
To me it’s a gothic suspense story. Bottom line it’s a deliciously creepy story of a creepy 18th century painting that has been causing trouble since it was painted.

The painting’s creepy history is told by Oliver’s elderly former professor. He describes how he came to own it as well as how the painting’s former owner told him of its history. The layers of the history are peeled back as the suspense builds. It becomes clear that the story of the painting is not done yet but what will happen next is suddenly inevitable.

It’s a quick read and perfect for a stormy winter afternoon. It’s one I will probably read again when I’m looking for a seasonal Halloween book.

4 stars Rating 4/5

This is my contribution to the Murder Monsters and Mayhem event hosted by Jenn at Jenn’s Bookshelves.

Murder Monsters and Mayhem
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Susan Hill’s Lafferton – Home of the Simon Serrailler series

Posted by on Apr 15, 2010 in 2010, Mystery Theme Week, Susan Hill | 7 comments

I love books with maps!!!

When I opened the front cover of The Various Haunts of Men (the first Simon Serrailler book) and discovered this I did a little happydance. If you click on the image you’ll get to a full size version.

Lafferton is a fictional cathedral town somewhere in Southern England.

Between the map in the book and the descriptions in the story a fairly clear image of the town is created.

On Susan Hill’s Website she says of Lafferton “I am often asked if it is based on a real place. No, but if you think of places like Exeter or Salisbury you are on the right lines.”

“It was small, but not too small, had wide, leafy avenues and some pretty Victorian terraces and, in the Cathedral Close, fine Georgian houses. The Cathedral itself was magnificent . . . and there were quality shops, pleasant cafes.”
–From The Various Haunts of Men

Based on the first two books (all of the series I’ve read so far) these are some of the important places in Lafferton and the surrounding countryside (not all are on the map).

The Cathedral which dominates the central part of town and its peaceful grounds are a part of so many stories. It is the scene of weddings, funerals, and some of Freya Graffham’s introduction to the people of the town as she joins the choir.

I actually think that this aerial photo of Exeter which Susan Hill describes as being something close to the fictional Lafferton is pretty close to my own mental image of Lafferton.

DCI Simon Serrailler lives in an apartment near the Cathedral. It is actually in a building that is primarily used as businesses and therefore mostly empty when he’s home. His apartment very much fits him. It’s a perfect home for a man who seems to be a loner and fairly aloof. The Town Square, Police Station and pubs are all within walking distance.

His triplet sister Cat and her husband and kids live a few miles out of town in a comfortable, casual and homey farmhouse. It’s here where Simon retreats for nurturing and to relax with his sister and her family and is a stark contrast to his own apartment. It’s more of a safe zone for him than his parents home.

His parents home (Hallam House) is outside of town and something on a much grander scale. Both of them successful and respected physicians his mother has retired to a life of charity work and restoring the gardens at their large home.

It’s a friendly enough little town and the distinct neighborhoods become familiar as the series progresses. There are the working class folks who live in the Dulcie Estates who have distrust for the cops (particularly when he was born as one of their own as is DS Nathan Coates).

The neighborhood where Freya lives in a small artisan’s cottage is a grid of twelve streets known as the Apostles for their proximity to the Cathedral.

The places around Lafferton are as much of the story as the crimes that are investigated. The books have strong stories of the people around Simon and their places in his life and in the town are something that Susan Hill manages to express so well in the books.

Find more of what’s up with Detectives Around the World Week by clicking on the logo.

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The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill

Posted by on Apr 13, 2010 in 2010, 4 stars, Book Review, Mystery Theme Week, Susan Hill | 4 comments

The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill

Genre: Mystery / Crime Fiction
Series: #2 in the Simon Serrailler series
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 370
Challenges: None
Source: Purchased New

The Short Version:
British crime fiction that is about far more than the central crime with a lead character who has as many flaws as he does strengths.

Why I Read It:
I read the first book in the series last year after my bookseller friend recommended it. When the Detectives Around the World theme week came along it gave me a good reason to move this second in the series to the top of my TBR list.

The Book
DCI Simon Serrailler is in Venice as the book opens. Still struggling with the events that occurred at the end of The Various Haunts of Men, he is taking a much needed break and focusing on his artwork in a familiar and pleasant place. His holiday is interrupted by a call from his father informing him that his severely mentally and physically handicapped younger sister is seriously ill. When Simon returns to his home town of Lafferton, England he not only has to face his beloved sister’s illness, but he also finds himself investigating the baffling disappearance of a young boy.

The disappearance of nine year old David Angus takes its toll on not only on his family, but also on the police investigating it. At the same time a third storyline follows Andy Gunton’s return to Lafferton after five years in prison. Andy is determined to escape the patterns of his past and build a new life, but is hampered by being back in the same neighborhood and environment that led him to the mistakes that landed him in prison before he was twenty years old.

My Thoughts:
It’s hard for me to classify this as a classic mystery story. The disappearance of David Angus is only one of several main story lines and in fact doesn’t even happen until page 59. The book is about the investigation and the investigators, but it is also about the toll that such a tragedy and uncertainty can have on a family. The parts of the story that dealt with David’s parents and older sister were heart wrenching to read as their family disintegrated under the weight of not knowing what happened to David.

As much as that was agonizing to read, I also followed Andy Gunton’s story line with a feeling of hope that he would be able to avoid the lifestyle that led him to prison, but also with trepidation that somehow his storyline would intersect tragically with the missing boy’s.

The major portion of the book however was given to Simon Serrailler and his family. I’d said of the first book in this series that Simon was almost a peripheral character, and in this second book, the central crime is almost a peripheral storyline. This book brings together a lot of the missing background of Simon Serrailler and his complex relationships with both of his parents and even more the sister he is closest to (He and his sister, Cat are two of a set of triplets)

This is not by any means a hit the ground running non-stop kind of mystery story. This is a slow building network of story and layers that interconnect and while some reach conclusions don’t expect everything to be neatly wrapped up at the end of the book. It is well written crime fiction, but it is also so much more the story of Simon and the people and town of Lafferton.

I do know that I will not wait so long before reading the next book in the series.

Rating 4/5

Find more of what’s up with Detectives Around the World Week by clicking on the logo.

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Confessions of a Serial Reader – The Simon Serrailler Series by Susan Hill

Posted by on Apr 12, 2010 in 2010, Mystery Theme Week, Serial Reader, Susan Hill | 10 comments

As part of this week’s Detectives Around the World activities this week I’m focusing a Confessions of a Serial Reader post on the Simon Serrailler Series by Susan Hill.

I’ve read the first two books in this series and have thoroughly enjoyed them. My bookseller friend says of Susan Hill “she is so good she makes my teeth hurt”. Trust me this is high praise and well deserved.

I read the first book in the series last year and just recently finished the second. I am most definitely looking forward to continuing with this series.

If you like your crime fiction to start off with a bang and go full speed non-stop to the end, then this probably isn’t the series for you. However, if you like your crime fiction to give you characters that you get to know and care about whether they are the victims, the investigators or those who know and love these people then this is a series worth reading. The books are slower paced and while the crime investigation and mystery are the core of the story they are by far not the only focus.

Deputy Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler lives and works in the English cathedral city of Lafferton. According to his father he’s the black sheep of the family because he’s the only one who has not become a physician. Both of his parents are doctors as are his siblings. One of a set of triplets, Simon is very close to his sister Cat who is a family doctor in Lafferton. The third triplet (a brother) lives and works abroad. Cat is a dedicated physician and her devotion to her family and patients is as much a part of these stories as is Simon and his career as a DCI.

The first book in the series is The Various Haunts of Men (my full review is here)

If I hadn’t known that this was the first in a series featuring DCI Simon Serrailler, I would not have guessed, because he actually plays more of a supporting role in much of this book.

The story opens with a disappearance. The Hill is an area of Lafferton where people walk, run, bike, and just enjoy the day. But when people start disappearing with no trace and don’t seem to have anything in common, it begins to take on a possibly sinister feel. Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham has recently transferred from London to the smaller town of Lafferton and takes an interest in the missing persons cases and feels that somehow they are connected.

In both of the books in this series that I have read, the author introduces multiple subplots that take a while to intersect but the characters and excellent writing make the journey through the story an intriguing one. Not every subplot is ultimately related to the crime being investigated. Much of the story also revolves around Simon Serrailler, his family and several recurring characters.

There are a couple of things I think you should know about this series based on what I’ve read in the first two books.

  1. If you like your mysteries to end with all the subplots and loose ends tied up, you probably won’t like this series. This has never bothered me with crime fiction because I think it’s very realistic for things to be left hanging or even unsolved at the end of a case.
  2. Although the author says on her site that the books follow in chronological order, each one can be read independently, I feel it is important that you know that the end of the first book is freely and importantly a part of the story in the second book. Once you read The Pure in Heart, you will know the end of The Various Haunts of Men.
The bottom line for me is that this is a complex series that is not only about the particular central crime of the book, but also and maybe even more about the lead detective, his family and the place where he lives.

If you have enjoyed Tana French’s books I would strongly encourage you to give this series a try.
Find more of what’s up with Detectives Around the World Week by clicking on the logo.
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Detectives Around the World Week – Simon Serrailler (England)

Posted by on Apr 11, 2010 in 2010, Mystery Theme Week, Susan Hill | 0 comments

Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts came up with a brilliant idea a few months ago to celebrate the Detectives and their stories that we love to read with a theme week. Thus, Detectives Around the World was born.

The preliminaries have played out over the past few weeks with a World’s Favorite Detective tournament. The pool of contestants has been narrowed down to the final two so get yourself over to Jen’s blog starting tomorrow to cast your vote.

The final two are Harry Bosch and Philip Marlowe – make sure to vote for your favorite over at Jen’s Book Thoughts.

As for the rest of the weeks’ festivities, she asked folks to pick a detective and to use this week to review a book featuring that detective as well as additional posts about the series and setting.

I chose DCI Simon Serrailler from the series written by Susan Hill and will be featuring this series here at Whimpulsive this week. 

I encourage you to check out the latest on the Detectives Around the World week by clicking on the image near the top of this post.

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Posted by on Feb 5, 2010 in 2010, 4.5 stars, Book Review, Support Your Library, Susan Hill | 2 comments

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 1983
Pages: 160
Challenges: Support Your Local Library #8
Source: Library

The Short Version:
Gothic ghost story with all the necessary pieces including huge isolated house, burial grounds, townfolk who won’t talk, foggy marshes, and a young lawyer who doesn’t believe in ghosts.

Why I Read It:
I found out about this book when Raych at Books I Done Read reviewed it and mentioned that not many libraries had it. Of course, I immediately checked, discovered that my library had a copy and placed a request. I read and enjoyed the first of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler detective series, but had no idea she’d written so many earlier books including this Victorian tale that was in my library’s young adult section.

The Book:
This is a fairly short book that is a quick read. It opens on Christmas Eve. Arthur Kipps is at home with his second wife and stepchildren and grandchildren. As they start sharing their traditional ghost stories, Arthur listens but refuses to participate despite insistent encouragement from the boys. Later, after the holidays, Arthur shares with the reader his own ghost story as he finally writes the it down. Many years ago as a young lawyer, Arthur was sent to settle the estate of a longtime client of his firm. The woman’s isolated house is in a marshy area that can only be reached by a causeway at low tide. When Arthur arrives in the nearby town, he finds the locals reluctant to talk about the woman. At her funeral Arthur sees a young woman who intrigues him, but when he mentions this to the local land agent he’s shocked to see the man appear frightened.

My Thoughts:
This is a quick read, and although I wasn’t able to read it in one sitting, it could easily be done. Hill does an excellent job of gradually building the tension and creating an atmosphere. It’s a wonderful little gothic tale that would be perfect for a Halloween type of seasonal read. The Victorian era setting along with the slowly revealed secrets and the damp, foggy isolated setting are perfect elements in this spooky, but not scary little tale. I really think the only reason it’s in the young adult section of my library is that it’s the perfect slumber party ghost story.

Rating 4.5/5

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