Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-24
- Reviewer: Staff
In Hill’s subpar eighth crime novel based in Lafferton, England (after 2012’s A Question of Identity), the authorities hit a dead end investigating a child-porn ring and send Chief Supt. Simon Serrailler undercover to Stitchford Therapeutic Community Prison. At Stitchford, doctors use intense psychotherapy to try to rehabilitate sex offenders, one of whom is Will Fernley—a criminal who could lead the police to his cohorts in the porn ring, if he would only talk. Simon’s job is to gain Fernley’s confidence. Once inside, Simon can only communicate with the outside world via a phone disguised as a watch. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Simon, his father, Richard, rapes an acquaintance of Richard’s. The victim wrestles with whether she should press charges, but this aspect of the story remains underdeveloped. Toward the end, a couple of plot contrivances, one of which involves the watch phone, undermine the realism of the rest of the novel. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman-Schneider Literary. (Jan.)
Whodunit: The worst trip I've ever been on
“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me, Santa Catalina, the island of romance.” So goes the old Four Preps tune. But there is little romance for Jay Johnson, the somewhat squirrely protagonist of Daniel Pyne’s Fifty Mice. Marooned on the fabled island getaway, Johnson is an unwilling participant in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Plucked from his oh-so-normal existence in the middle of a sunshiny Los Angeles day, drugged and spirited away to the seaside town of Avalon, he quickly discovers that every link to his former life has been summarily shut down—email, Facebook, cell phone, the works. Apparently he knows something, has seen something or is in possession of something that the feds desperately want to retrieve from him. Problem is, he has no idea what it might be, and nobody is willing to let him in on the secret. Everyone around him, as far as he can tell, is either another “inmate” or one of the “handlers,” despite the facade of normalcy that permeates his upscale oceanview neighborhood. And every indication is that their patience is wearing thin. Very thin. Deadly thin. Are you paranoid yet? Believe me, you will be.
INTO RUTLEDGE’S PAST
The books of Charles Todd, recounting the cases of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge in the days following WWI, are as quintessentially English as anything by Ruth Rendell, P.D. James or John Harvey. This is rather confounding, as Charles Todd is distinctly not English, and “Charles Todd” is actually a mother/son writing team from North Carolina and Delaware, respectively. Anglo-bibliophiles, don’t let that put you off, because these are some of the finest historical mystery novels in print, and there are enough of them to keep you busy for months. The newest, A Fine Summer’s Day, is actually something of a prequel to the now 17-strong series. As such, it is a fine standalone novel about a series of murders that rock the English countryside in the summer leading up to the declaration of WWI. But for longtime series readers, it will be much more than that, as it foreshadows the bare beginnings of what will one day become Rutledge’s deepest and most guarded secrets: the shell shock that will change the course of his life and the voice of a dead man that haunts him every day thereafter. Make no mistake: Todd mère et fils are in top form once again.
BIG TROUBLE, LITTLE ISLAND
We were introduced to Anne Marie Laveaud, juge d’instruction (investigative magistrate) for the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, in last year’s Another Sun. Laveaud is back in The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe, a compelling tale of a twin-speared investigation into the suspicious suicide of a high-profile (not to mention widely loathed) environmentalist and the murder of a comely Parisienne on a remote clothing-optional beach. This book is set 10 years after Another Sun, and the changes in Laveaud’s life are manifold: She is now divorced from a husband for whom the description “useless” would be nothing short of charitable; her son, pouty even as a child, has honed his petulance in adolescence; and there is a bubbly young daughter added to the mix as well. As is the case with single mothers everywhere, Laveaud is an accomplished juggler, dealing with the joint responsibilities of keeping a family and a career in balance and navigating the murky waters of sexism, cronyism and racism in a society where she is very much an outsider. As much social commentary as mystery, this is a crackerjack whodunit from start to finish, as well as a compelling look into one of the last bastions of colonialism in a shrinking world.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
One of the cool things about being a book reviewer is that I get lots of books for free. So many, in fact, that it pains me to actually shell out my own cash for a book. This is not the case with Susan Hill, whose books have been on my would-cheerfully-pay-for list since 2004’s The Various Haunts of Men. Ten years down the road, in The Soul of Discretion, Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler has grown in depth of character and in responsibility, and is poised to take on the most formidable task of his career: the infiltration of a pedophile ring in his (fictional) hometown of Lafferton, England. To do this, Serrailler must go undercover as an imprisoned child molester and cozy up to a “fellow” convict. Just as he is on the threshold of a breakthrough, his subject engineers a daring prison break, challenging Serrailler to come along for the ride. What a dilemma—watch all your efforts spin right down the drain, or set loose a serial predator on an unsuspecting public. Brilliantly executed as always, Hill’s newest is gripping from the opening page until (literally) the closing sentence.