I'm not normally a big fan of "cozy" mysteries, unless you're including The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. I'm not sure I even care for that term. It just doesn't seem appropriate. And then too, one man's cozy is another's.......
Which is the case with Susan Hill. Several blogs I monitor have touted Hill as another Louise Penney, the woman whose star is skyrocketing with her Armand Gamache series of cozies that take place in Twin Pines, a little village in Quebec where there seems to be an inordinate number of murders. Now, I've only listened to one of Penney's titles so I won't make an unfair statement about the series but it just seemed a little too tame for me. I fully intend to try another in the new year.
In the meantime, though, I decided to give Susan Hill a try and began listening to The Shadows in the Street. This too is a series, perfect for those of you who love getting into a character and watching him morph into something other than what he started out as (think Harry Bosch). Hill's Simon Serailler mysteries take place in another peaceful little village, a cathedral town in England. Lafferton, like Twin Pines, is hardly the place where you'd expect to find much murder and mayhem. Maybe that's why readers love these books so much!
And mayhem there is, as one by one, various prostitutes' bodies begin to turn up strangled. The girls on the streets try to watch out for each other, helped by the do-gooders from the church and the lonely librarian who brings them hot tea and sandwiches each night. Some of them dream of getting out of "the trade," but they can't just stop working since they need the money to feed themselves and their kids. Hill, through her protaganists' situations, has a lot to say about the state of a society that can't or won't take care of the least of its brethren.
I think that what raises Hill's mysteries to the next level is that she really fleshes out the secondary characters with all of their foibles and flaws. In this episode there's a new dean at the cathedral, a political time bomb. He's accompanied by a wife, Ruth, who seems to be lacking any semblance of social skills. She quickly alienates other members of the various church boards and, quite suddenly, goes off the rails, disappearing for a few days and throwing off the investigation of the girls' murders. Ms. Hill provides a rather sympathetic examination of bi-polar disease and its effect on friends and loved ones.
There's also a lovely sub plot about the relationship of DCS Serailler with his family, in particular with his sister Cat, a recently widowed mother of three, and with his step-mother, a new addition to the family to whom he's previously been less than welcoming.
You know how sometimes you'll learn about someone or something new and then you see references to it over and over again? Does that happen to you? Well, it always does to me - especially working in a library. Sure enough, I just got to my Sunday's paper (yeah, it's Wednesday) and spotted Marilyn Stasio's column on crime in the Times book review mentioning the newest release in the Serailler series. Betrayal of Trust will be on the bookshelves soon.
And, if that's not enough, later in the day I read in Publisher's Weekly that a film is being produced based on one of her earlier novels, Woman in Black, starring none other than Harry Potter. Oh, I'm sorry, I mean Daniel Radcliffe. How much fun is that?
Meanwhile, I just received a new book from Library Journal, set in modern day Cape Town. I'm about 150 pages in and I must say that it's a deep, complicated novel that will take a lot of concentration on my part if I'm to give it a fair, honest review. I had hoped I could skate through a couple of easy books on my way to my goal of 100 but it looks like it's not to be. I'm so happy that all we've planned for the holidays is reading! Yup, I'm showing my age and I don't care who knows it.