Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: 'The Soul of Discretion' by Susan Hill

Susan Hill does not shy away from controversial topics, especially in her splendid new Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler mystery, "The Soul of Discretion." This novel deals with pedophilia, child pornography, rape, male-female relationships, and end of life issues--all provocative and timely topics. In Hill's eighth entry in this consistently absorbing series (you would be wise to read the books in order), Hill skillfully and sensitively explores the aforementioned issues while spinning an electrifying tale that will leave fans of Simon, his sister Cat Deerborn, and several others we have come to know intimately, in a state of shock.

The action takes place in the cathedral town of Lafferton, where Simon lives with his lover, Rachel. Simon is a loner and a bit of a curmudgeon, who is reluctant to change any aspect of his life, even to accommodate the woman he adores. Meanwhile, Dr. Cat Deerborn, Simon's altruistic sister, is raising three children on a shoestring budget. Cat and Simon's dad, Richard, is a retired physician whose second marriage to a warm and generous woman, Judith, is beginning to crumble. As if these problems were not enough to give us pause, Simon Serrailler goes undercover to infiltrate a ring of wealthy and influential miscreants who abuse young children to satisfy their perverted desires.

The author tells her story with restraint and intelligence, moving seamlessly back and forth between characters, and encouraging us judge the wisdom or folly of each individual's actions. Hill's heroes and heroines are three-dimensional men and women whose flaws include arrogance, naiveté, selfishness, and impulsiveness. Cat, however, is as close to a saint as a person can be; she consistently puts others' needs ahead of her own. The suspense escalates when Simon, who assumes the role of a pedophile in order to expose a ring of felons, suspects that his "legend" (the phony background information he provides in order to appear credible) may not be enough to avoid detection. We also feel for Rachel, Simon's long-suffering girlfriend, and Judith, who fears that the man she married may not be the devoted husband he pretends to be. "The Soul of Discretion" concludes with an explosive finale that will make it excruciating to wait for the next entry. This is not only an atmospheric page-turner that gets to our nerve endings, but it is also a sad commentary on a society that does far too little to protect the most helpless and vulnerable among us.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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