It was the arrival of the sixth novel in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series, The Betrayal of Trust, to be published on October 6th, that reminded me I still hadn't read the fifth in the series, The Shadows in the Street.
It arrived backalong and vanity had me swiftly turning to page thirty to read my on-the-other-end-of-the-phone cameo appearance in the book, and I was so overcome with a sense of greatness that I forgot to read the rest of it. I mean there were decisions to be made... who would I want to play my part in the TV series for a start, and surely it would be need to be elevated to a walk-on given the importance of the role of the health visitor.
Well I watched The Hours recently, having never watched it before, and it was clear that Meryl Streep would be perfect so I have put in that request.
Incidentally, why have I never watched The Hours before??
Perhaps because I just couldn't get along with the book many years ago??
But the film seemed of an entirely different mettle, those intertwining lives and the connections between past and present, and the over-arching presence and influence of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and that oh so clever twist at the end. Though I'll admit I did find Nicole Kidman's Virginia get-up quite astonishingly real, remembering all that talk of the 'nose' at the time, but I was a little wary, if not weary of the constantly harrowed look on her face. The tucking in of the chin and the raising of the eyes... a bit like the posture and neck alignment of women wearing large hats at weddings if they want to see where they are going. But anyway, I've plumped for good old Meryl, she can turn her hand to just about any role so I'm guessing she'd do me just fine.
Anyway, what will be clear to those who read here is that I know Susan Hill well-enough to be able to tell her that she has promise as a writer and will do well if she keeps at it, but also well enough to tell her if I don't like a book she has written, and which she never seems to mind, because let's be honest, they will sell in their tens of thousands whether I like them or not. But in the interests of transparency I tell you that before declaring that actually I have thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow on the Streets, a real asset to this series which is shaping up to be quite something. This one a good solid crime read read that had me eager to pick the book up at every opportunity, and all aided and abetted by some really good cohesive and atmospheric cover design as you can see.
Interestingly one of those books that Alan Jacobs talked about in The Art of Reading in the Age of Distraction, where to make notes, and stop and start and think, would make for a completely dissatisfying read, I just wanted to storm through to the end and find out whodunnit.
Blonde, floppy-haired Simon Serailler (heck do any of us really know how to pronounce that...Susan won't say, I've asked... Serailer, Serrayer...) had been mooching around the Scottish island of Taransay,(yes the one where the BBC series Castaway was filmed) trying to get a bit of peace and quiet whilst recovering from the trauma of his last case. In fact he's doing alright because it is chapter ten before he makes an appearance and wouldn't you know it, he's in bed with a bonny local lass having seen the last failed romance off to Nepal at the end of the last book, and the one before that... Diana, whatever happened to her... and then there was the tragedy of Freya in volume one, a master-stroke that took everyone's breath away. I mean how could Susan do that to Simon and to us.
Meanwhile back in Lafferton prostitutes are being murdered, and as you'd expect our DCS, head of SIFT, the Special Incident Flying Task Force, is needed back at base to sort it all out.
I love the way that Susan writes perfectly-sized chapters, rarely more than ten pages in length thus allowing the action to range widely across the life and the inhabitants of the city, and move easily from one to the next, no wonder this has been snapped up for television.
The Shadows in the Street focuses on a varied selection of them all .
Firstly the cathedral and the arrival of a new happy-clappy Dean and his troubled wife, both hell-bent on modernising the liturgy and dragging the place into the twenty-first century, and setting up a nice drop-in centre for the street girls. Simon of course lives in a flat along Cathedral Close, but it a bit of a lapsed C of E man
Then there's the university library and a rather old-fashioned, unmarried librarian called Lesley who still lives with his disabled mother and regularly takes flasks and sandwiches out to the street girls...and who can know how he is paid.
The GP's surgery of course, most crucially the very place where Dr Cat Deerbon makes that all-important call to the health visitor called Lynne who's a bit disillusioned with the NHS (hoping Meryl can pull that one off) to ask about the children of one of the street girls.
The extended Family Serailler with all their little foibles, and of course Simon's mother has died and his stern and rather forbidding father has re-married. Tantalisingly we still don't know why Simon and his father have such a difficult relationship, Susan still keeping that one close to her chest.
And then of course there are the streets and the girls who work them, and the grizzly murders that keep happening whilst the police team seem to be making little progress.
Nice red herrings a la Susan, her favoured dish I think, and enough to keep me guessing to the end, and I wasn't going to fall for any of it because I know what Susan's like, there will be a sudden and devilish twist, or she'll pull the rug out from under your reading bottom.
So I wasn't disappointed and now I'm going to treat myself and motor straight on into The Betrayal of Trust whilst I have Lafferton on the brain. And I'm in the next one too...as me rather than a character in the novel given that Susan has named, in her acknowledgements for this book, each and every one of the people that she chats to on Facebook as respite and company during a writing day.
What a lovely gesture.