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A Question of Identity: A Simon Serrailler Mystery (Chief Superintendent… (edition 2012)

by Susan Hill

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2021258,111 (3.83)46
Member:juliecheri
Title:A Question of Identity: A Simon Serrailler Mystery (Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler Mystery)
Authors:Susan Hill
Info:Overlook Hardcover (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:elderly women, entrapment, kids trying for movie parts, hospice goes to daily care, 2013

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A Question of Identity by Susan Hill

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Where I got the book: audiobook on Audible. ***SPOILERS, READ BOOK FIRST***

In this installment of the Simon Serailler murder mystery series, Simon is confronted with a killer of old ladies. Little old ladies. Nice old ladies. Because nobody is safe in Susan Hill’s world.

I’m giving this one three and a half stars because I like Susan Hill’s writing and this time around she shoved a lot of the extraneous subplotting into the background and got on with investigating the murder. The family soap opera was still there, centered mostly on Sam and Hannah who are now at an age where they can start getting into trouble and/or being trouble in general, but I don’t have that feeling of the subplots drowning out the mystery. Hill seems to have dropped the socio-political commentary level a bit, and there’s no talk this time about police cutbacks—at the same time there’s not nearly as much whining about how Simon’s paperwork stops him from getting out on the street. He acts just like any other fictional detective by unrealistically combining seniority and action, and he’s all the better for it. And I felt engaged by the mystery plot and wanted to know more, plus I find I rather enjoy it when Hill gets into the killer’s head—especially when I realized who he was (that “he” isn’t a spoiler as it’s obvious from the beginning who he is, we just don’t know who he is now.)

BUT.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TOENAILS?

I find it very hard to forgive Hill for setting up this juicy murder method and then not explaining WHY the killer window-dressed his victims the way he did. The mirror. The toenails. I thought for sure I knew what the mirror was about—there’s a theme of dual identity that runs through the killer, one victim AND the detective and is just screaming to be exploited—but seriously, what was up with the toenails? I NEED TO KNOW. I’m used to Hill leaving loose threads, but this one really bugs me as what we end up with is a killer without a motive, or perhaps no motive except the pleasure he gets from the crime. And even then, if pleasure is a motive I need to know why that particular setup is necessary for X to get his jollies. We get one clue right at the end, and I thought the moment had come when all would be revealed—and then the moment passed and was lost forever.

My other major gripe with the murder plot was the fact that they only catch the guy due to a key piece of information given to them by the sinister and mysterious department that arranges for the killer’s new identity. This is a department that’s so deeply hidden that they have to go through arcane layers of security to get anything done at all, but at one point they suddenly start acting with buffoonish incompetence and blow their cover, THEN they decide to give out one little teaser of information instead of just saying “OK, his name is ___” and THEN at the end one of them calls Serailler to have a bit of a gloat (narrator Steven Pacey uses a lovely nasal villain-voice for him because, yes, he IS a caricature and deserves a cartoon voice). If this is really the kind of deep, deep operation that can wipe out a man’s identity and retrain him into a completely new life, it would not act like this. It would probably never even acknowledge its own existence even to itself, let alone to the CID, and it certainly wouldn’t give out information on its subjects no matter what they did. Logically, it would kill them itself, by arranging for a nasty freak accident.

And let’s not even start on the fact that once again, the sleepy little cathedral town of Lafferton has a serial killer—although, to be fair, that’s just the way life is in a murder mystery series. You have to suspend your sense of the absurd and go with the flow at some point.

Hill makes a half-hearted attempt to wrap the horrendous Simon/Rachel romance into the theme with Rachel’s “I don’t know who I am” at the end, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s some Twoo Luv stuff between the two of them near the beginning, but most of the time they’re too busy to see each other, and serve them right. When they are together their relationship seems to be based on sex and eating. We know absolutely nothing about Rachel—what does she do when she’s not glued to her poor dear cuckolded husband’s side? What is she interested in? Does she have family? Who are her friends? What are her faults? What’s she like when she’s ticked off about something?

I’m trying to figure out why it is I can see all these flaws in the Serailler books and still keep reading. Is it simply for the chills? Because Hill is extremely good at evoking that OH SHIT feeling when the stair tread creaks and you know, you know . . . . And she has this way of pinpointing all the nasty things in my own head, all the little worries and disappointments and feelings of anger and frustration, and putting them into fictional characters to whom nasty things tend to happen. You could, perhaps, theorize that there are two purposes for murder mysteries—the first being to satisfy the reader’s craving for justice by ensuring that the bad guys always get caught and punished, the second being to satisfy our need to feel scared when we’re safe in our own homes, our animal instincts that SOMETHING’S GOING TO POUNCE warring with the logic based on actual crime figures. In my opinion Hill does badly on the first count, well on the second. And it’s the women and children who are picked off, one by one, as the darkness prowls around us, because we’re the weak ones and are never safe, even when we think we are.

Hang on. What was that? I think I heard a noise. I’ll be right back ( )
  JaneSteen | Jan 9, 2015 |
Bought while traveling overseas, an interesting introduction to this writer and her series. Intricate plot with some false leads. Kept me guessing...now to go back and start at the beginning to know the characters in the series. ( )
1 vote VictoriaJZ | Nov 10, 2013 |
From Susan Hill, another solid entry in the Simon Serrailler Crime novel series, which now numbers seven. Set in Lafferton, A Question of Identity describes the grisly murders of three elderly women in their homes. The genesis of these crimes goes back ten years, to a botched trial from which, despite overwhelming evidence, the accused was acquitted. Hill has structured the action so that for most of the book the reader knows more than the police, and Serrailler gropes along in the dark trying to piece together the bits and pieces of evidence that come his way. The murders and the path to their resolution are intriguing, but just as engaging are the lives of the characters that populate Hill's story. Serrailler, his sister Cat, their father and step-mother, and Cat's three children are characters in a larger drama that plays out over the course of this book, and which leaves enough loose ends dangling that readers will be eagerly anticipating the next novel in the series. ( )
  icolford | Jun 26, 2013 |
This is a Simon Seruiler mystery, which means that aside from the particular mystery, it has the backdrop of Chief Superintendent Simon Seruiler, an artist detective with an attraction for and a reluctance to be committed to women, along with his sister, Cat, a doctor, and her family, and his father, mother, and later stepmother, along with various other characters who continue for varying lengths through the novels. The location is the cathedral town of Lafferton, in England, not tiny, but not too big. Simon is a likable and interesting character, despite his imperfections. He has strong emotions and connections with his family. His sister, Cat, is the heart of the extended family, and the one he goes to for comfort. Simon plays somewhat of a father role for his nephew, Sam. This backdrop is interesting in itself, and then, the extended family is often drawn into the particular mysteries as well, with lingering effects on them.

This particular mystery is about a series of murders of old women. Some of the selections are from the point of view of the murderer. Like all these mysteries, the people are complex and the story is good and draws you in. The murderer had been given a new identity for his own protection and had stopped killing and created a new lige. The murderer, it turns out, is also known to us as a character who is not identified as the murderer. When the identities are fused, I am not completely convinced of the fusion of two, seemingly very different characters, although I am not totally unaccepting of it either. At any rate, I recommend the book, as well as the whole series. It is at the level of P.D. James, whom I consider one of the best (aside from the unfortunate Pemberly historical mystery). ( )
  solla | Jun 24, 2013 |
This is the seventh in the Simon Serrailler mystery series, quirky because Simon, who is Chief Superintendent in the British town of Lafferton, rarely makes an appearance in the books. Rather, these stories take a detailed and intimate look at the lives of those around Serrailler, whether his family members or those he is investigating.

In this novel, Serrailler is investigating a serial killer who targets elderly women. But we learn much more about the women and their daily lives and their families and friends than we do about Serrailler’s case.

Also, like previous books, the central character is actually Simon’s widowed sister Cat, and her struggles to raise her three children, the eldest of whom, Sam, has taken to bullying. Who is he, she wonders? Who, indeed, is anyone in this reverie about identity and how we define who we are.

Cat is losing her job because of budget cuts, and she must figure out who she now is without her career to define her. Similarly, Simon’s love interest, Rachel, is in a very precarious position that requires her to come to terms with her self-image. Cat and Simon’s stepmother has to deal with the changes in who her husband has become, and who she must be in response. And most critically, the killer has decided that the only way to achieve a sense of identity is to go on committing murders.

As the story winds up, we learn who the killer is, but not why the killer engaged in such bizarre rituals, or chose those particular victims. Nor is there any resolution to the identity crises facing the other characters. One assumes they will be taken further in the next installment. After all, one doesn’t read Susan Hill for the mysteries, but rather the ongoing psychological analyses she performs on her characters.

Evaluation: This book is even more unusual than the previous ones in that a whole slew of plot threads are left unresolved. This series is not for those who want a fast-paced carnival ride with well-hidden criminals and life-threatening close calls. Rather, these books call for a big cozy chair, afghan, roaring fire, and glass of Laphroaig, Simon Serallier’s warmer-upper of choice. ( )
  nbmars | Jun 14, 2013 |
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Book description
Susan Hill- the Man Booker Prize nominee and winner of the Whitbread, Somerset Maugham, and John Llewellyn Rhys awards- returns with a gripping mystery "eagerly awaited by all aficionados" (P.D. James).

A particularly unpleasant murder, that of a very old woman in a housing project, rocks the town of Lafferton. The murderer has left a distinctive "sign" on the body and at the scene of crime. A couple of weeks later, a similar murder occurs, and a month or so later, so does another.

Initial investigations discover that the mysterious "sign" left on the body was the calling card of a suspect who was charged with several murders in the northwest of the country, tried but acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. All indications suggest that this person has simply vanished. Or is he right under their noses? Simon Serrailler is obliged to make delve deeper and scratch out answers, in this addictive mystery of surpassing darkness by the bestselling Susan Hill.
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A particularly unpleasant murder, that of a very old woman in a housing project, rocks the town of Lafferton. The murderer has left a distinctive "sign" on the body and at the scene of crime. A couple of weeks later, a similar murder occurs, and a month or so later, so does another. Initial investigations discover that the mysterious "sign" left on the body was the calling card of a suspect who was charged with several murders in the northwest of the country, tried but acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. All indications suggest that this person has simply vanished. Or is he right under their noses? Simon Serrailler is obliged to make delve deeper and scratch out answers.… (more)

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