The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Streets is Susan Hill’s fifth Simon Serrailler crime novel. I’ve read the earlier books which I enjoyed, although I found the fourth book, The Vows of Silence rather a gloomy book not just because of the murders but also because of the unhappy state of Simon and his family. So, I decided to wait a while before moving on to the fifth book. And I am now way behind in reading the series, which will reach book 8 in October!

Susan Hill’s Serrailler novels, whilst being crime fiction, concern moral and social issues. They also follow the lives of the Serrailler family, the main characters being Simon and his sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, which is why I think it’s best to read them in order. I noticed that in this book there are references to events and characters in the earlier books and I had to look back to refresh my memory. Without knowing what happened before those incidents would not have made much sense. The books are character-driven, concentrating on the people involved in the crime rather than the police investigations, although that of course is also part of the story.

There are two major themes in this book. One concerns the murders of local prostitutes, found strangled and Susan Hill draws a sympathetic, but never a condescending or judgemental view of these women’s lives, resulting in a moving storyline of a young woman, Abi who is a single mother. Alongside this is the problem of mental illness, with Ruth Webber, who suffers from manic depression. She is the wife of the new Dean of the Cathedral and arrives full of plans to change things, which causes problems. When she too goes missing there are fears she may become one of the murder victims.

I think of these novels more as psychological studies than crime fiction – the characters and their lives predominate, whilst the police make slow progress in finding the murderer (much like real life, maybe). Anyway it’s the characters and their problems that interested me more in this book than the police procedures.

The Shadows in the Street is a complex book, but it is immensely readable and once the mystery really got under way it’s tense and full of suspense. I really enjoyed it.