The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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November 5, 2010

The Shadows in the Street

‘What can I do?’ Cat asked in some distress.
After a pause, Judith said:  ‘I think all you can do is to wrap it up in a metaphorical bundle and lay it down.’
‘But where?’
Are you going to [--]’s funeral at St. Michael’s?’
‘Oh, yes,  I  must.’
‘So, maybe you could lay it down there?’
‘Yes,’ Cat said. ‘Maybe.’
‘I’m going to make a lamb casserole.’ Judith got up.
‘I’ll come and do the vegetables.’
Ordinary things, Cat thought gratefully. Washing up the coffee cups. Making a lamb stew. Chopping vegetables. Ordinary life. That’s what saves us.
It's nice, sometimes, to have your reading choices dictated for you by what's coming in on your library reserve list. After all, you put those books there because you wanted to read them...and isn't it good to have a decision (even a relatively unimportant one) taken off  your plate?

So I've been reading mysteries, which I love, and each one has been better than the last. I just finished The Shadows in the Street, the fifth Simon Serrailler mystery by Susan Hill.  I still think the first book in the series, with its unexpected death and its unsolved crimes, was the best, but the series is very good. It's set in Lafferton, an English cathedral city, and more specifically in and around the cathedral close. (Simon, our hero, lives in a secluded apartment at the top of a three-or-four story office building that's part of the Cathedral, and Ruth Webber, the cathedral's new Mrs. Proudie, wants him out of there.)  There is (as there should be!) a continuing story about the recurring characters:  Simon (who almost seems like a minor character this time) is collecting himself after his last case by living and drawing on a remote Scottish island (and gets what's coming to him before he leaves), and Cat, Simon's sister, is still coping with her grief over the death of her husband.  She becomes involved in a misguided effort to help young prostitutes who are ending up dead, and she's also drawn into the politics of the new, ill-fitting, evangelical Dean who has just come to lead the Cathedral. 

There's a long exposition, and it’s not until late in the book that the crime-solving kicks into full gear. When the murders happen, police work does not solve them, and it has an adverse effect (something Simon knows) on the people it touches.  Susan Hill's focus is on the people who are touched by the crimes:  Simon's family, a suspect and his well-meaning but annoying colleague, and even the police themselves. Still, I expected the killer to be someone else, which is what’s supposed to happen in a well-written mystery.  There's just everything I like about this kind of book in this one; I hope there will be more.

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David Nolan (dsc73277) said...

I did guess who the perpetrator was, though I cannot recall quite how early on and it certainly did not spoil my enjoyment of this fantastic book from a superb series.

There is so much crammed into these books. As an example of just one of the minor themes, I was struck by the contrast between the family struggling to cope after the husband loses his printing job, and one of Simon's old flames, a female vicar, who is off somewhere remote trying to 'find herself' on a sort of belated gap-year. Whatever the economic climate, there will always be some who have the luxury of being able to wallow in self-absorbtion while the rest struggle merely to survive. Some readers may well be angered by this contrast. Personally, I sympathised with both. The printer knew what his vocation was but had it taken away from him (he loses much more, of course, but I wish to avoid a spoiler here); the vicar, not unlike DCI Serailler, is struggling with exactly what her vocation is.

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Your opening quote is fantastic and makes me think about all the great writers I miss reading by not being interested in mysteries.

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