Series to Savour 6 – Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler mysteries

Several years ago, I read a mystery called “The various haunts of men“. It remains as one of my favorite mysteries to this day.  It is only fitting then, that I feature Susan Hill in my ‘Series to Savour‘ blog series.

The late, great, Ruth Rendell said “Not all great novelists can write crime fiction but when one like Susan Hill does the result is stunning”.

About Susan Hill (from the author’s website)

Susan Hill’s writing career has encompassed acclaimed literary novels, ghost stories, children’s books, detective novels and memoirs. She has won the Whitbread, Somerset Maugham and John Llewelyn Rhys awards, as well as having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Woman in Black, her terrifying ghost story, is still running as a play in the West End and is now a successful film.  She has established her own publishing imprint, Long Barn BooksShe now lives in a Gloucestershire farmhouse where she has been known to whistle… a lot!

The multi-award-winning author has been writing professionally for over 50 years! Besides being more than adept as a mystery novelist, she has also written quite a few ghost stories.  Probably the most famous of her ‘ghost stories’ was “The woman in black” which was adapted into an acclaimed feature film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, which came out in 2012.

eerie screenshot of a scene from the movie version of “A woman in black” starring Daniel Radcliffe

Her protagonist, Simon Serrailler, is a police Chief Inspector working in Lafferton, a small cathedral town in England.  To others he appears enigmatic and aloof – a loner. He comes from an upper middle class background.  Women find him very attractive.  He is an artist in his spare time. He is emotionally damaged.

I’ll admit that in the very first Simon Serrailler novel, he doesn’t play a huge part, though his character is introduced and his backstory explained so as to ‘set up’ the series. The limelight of the first novel falls on Freya Graffham, a rookie policewoman who is partnered with Serrailler on the missing persons case which the novel is centered around.  I really liked Freya and sympathized with her and her feelings of ‘getting in over her head‘.

I think most fiction books should contain maps.  I was delighted to find a map of the fictional town of Lafferton in the front of “The various haunts of men“. Susan Hill has compared her fictional town to both Exeter and Salisbury.

map of the fictional English cathedral town of Lafferton

This series (which began in 2004) is an intelligent addition to the British police procedural mystery where the crimes play second fiddle to the characters.

There is also talk of a television adaptation.  ITV plans to make the crime drama a long-running series, with the broadcaster said to be viewing the show as a modern-day Morse. I personally cannot wait!

The eight novels featuring Simon Serrailler are:

The author has also written two short stories featuring DCI Simon Serrailler which were released as Kindle singles:

The prolific Susan Hill is the author of over 55 works including fiction, collections of short stories, non-fiction, and children’s literature.  Her bibliography can be found here.

my favorite photo of Susan Hill

Susan Hill in quotes

An interview with Susan Hill

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read any of the Simon Serrailler series –
or if you plan to.

Posted in Authors, award winners, Favorite books, Mystery fiction, Series order, series to savour | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Book post today! YIPEE! Fredrik Backman!

I’ve made it abundantly clear over the last few years that I’m a HUGE FAN of the marvelous Fredrik Backman.

His novels have evoked much laughter and more than a tear or two.

So today I was delighted to find this in my mailbox!

A wonderful treat from Simon & Schuster Canada.

My reviews of his novels (so far):

A man called Ove (which just happens to be one of my ALL-TIME favorite novels!)

My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry

Britt-Marie was here

And every morning the way home gets longer and longer (a novella that will make you cry until your heart hurts)

Posted in Authors, Favorite books | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Same book – Different title (a bookworm’s gripe)

I take umbrage when publishers, in their infinite wisdom, decide to rename a book which already has a perfectly acceptable title.  This has occurred with two of the most recent additions to my TBR.

I personally prefer the cover and title on the left. I’m not sure I would have even picked up the cover on the right.

again, I much prefer the cover and title on the left

Bookworms everywhere must have encountered this issue on more than one occasion. Readers who follow authors or series rather than titles, fall victim to this ploy regularly. I even purchased the same book twice because of it.  (Maybe that is their evil plan….)

Yes, I actually bought BOTH of these. I remember being SO excited that Peter Robinson had a new book out!

the decision to change the word ‘close’ to ‘alley’ for North American audiences is one that I find ludicrous. Anyone who follows Rankin’s Rebus wants to read #15 in the series regardless Also, they know what a ‘close’ is.

And don’t even get me started as to how much I hated it back when I was working as a library cataloger.  The library would have a book, patrons would place holds on that book. Then… another patron would hear about a book and place a ‘suggestion for purchase’. We’d buy that book and that title would generate holds being placed on it.  Then, when I catalogued it I would discover that book B was the SAME BOOK as book A.    URGHHHH! Our means of handling the problem was enough to give a cataloger nightmares.  We merged the two records together!!!!  GASP!  The reason for this was so that ALL the patrons who had holds on the book would be in one queue.  This in turn led to all sorts of mayhem, as when they came to pick up their book, they thought they were getting the wrong one!

This has happened a few times with one of my favorite authors, Louise Penny. On her website, Penny writes:
“The publishers did this not, as you might suspect, to be annoying but because they genuinely feel their readers respond to different titles.”

As I’ve mentioned, this practice of having one book with two different titles is a nightmare for library staff, and I expect, bookstore staff as well.  Some of the titles are so completely different that one would never guess it is the same book.  Some have common words and are changed only slightly.  What is the point? (other than to give library workers and bookstore employees grey hair)

It happened to one of my all-time favorite novels!

and one of my all-time favorite novelists, Ruth Rendell

and another of my favorite novelists, Fredrik Backman

It has happened with books by one of the world’s best-selling novelists!

It happened to the “Queen of Crime”

it has happened to Graham Greene

It has happened to Diana Gabaldon (“Outlander” is such a better title…)

and Sophie Hannah

and Jonathan Tropper

and Tess Gerritsen

and P.J. Tracey

and Richard Montanari

and Joseph Finder

and Diane Chamberlain

and the award-winning Lawrence Hill

along with myriad others that I don’t have time to name….

As a reader, what are YOUR thoughts on this issue?

Also, I’d love to hear what authors feel about this practice.

I’d love to hear your stories about books that are published under two different titles.  Post a comment!

Posted in ramblings & miscellanea | Tagged , | 33 Comments

“The stolen child” by Lisa Carey

“Steeped in Irish history and lore, The Stolen Child is a mesmerizing descent into old world beliefs, and a captivating exploration of desire, myth, motherhood, and love in all its forms.”

We’ve been told that the Irish are a superstitious lot.  This is even more true of rural Ireland of sixty years ago, when this novel is set.  A fictional island of fishers and farmers, with no running water or electricity, St. Brigid’s Island is almost as antiquated as the Celtic saint whose name it bears. A three-mile long island that houses just eight families, myriad sheep, and no trees. The islanders have suffered many loses and the graveyard is on a point of land near where the boats dock.

“The first thing you see when you row a boat to this island is all the children who have already gone.”

“living here is like being slowly drowned, held down on a rock and left for the tide to come in”

The island has a well, a holy well, said to have magical powers attributed to Brigid. The islanders hold an odd juxtaposition of beliefs.  They are Roman Catholics, but they also believe in the ‘fairies’ or little people.  They all have a St. Brigid’s cross adorning their cottage walls. When they are in need of succor they pray to the Catholic saints, then, to cover their bases, they pray to the fairies…

There are two female protagonists in “The stolen child“, a story that tells of women who are stretched to their limit both physically and emotionally – and then called upon to endure even more.

Emer uses her hands to do damage.  Leaching away other people’s happiness is the only thing she has ever been able to do.

Emer, a caustic, dour and joyless woman of twenty-three years.  Twin sister to the joyful and sunny Rose, mother to Niall whom she adores.  She has never had a friend and has always felt ‘alone’. Emer lost one of her eyes years ago to an infection brought about by myriad bee stings.  Though the islanders believe in the holy healing powers of the sacred well, the waters failed to save Emer’s eye.  Emer and her twin sister have known unimaginable hardship in their short lives. When they were just twelve years old, their mother had a stroke and they’ve been doing all the work ever since. Girls on this island were born to work and help their mothers.  Boys were born to please their mothers.  Emer lives in fear that Niall, her son and the light of her life, will be ‘stolen‘.  She fears that the fairies will seek retribution.

Emer had such low expectations and then watched,
time and again, as they were realized

Rose is the ‘good’ sister married to the hard-working Austin, the good brother.  Emer is the ‘bad’ sister married to the lesser brother, Patch, a drunkard.  Emer has never known happiness and she spreads her bitterness to whomever she meets – until she meets Brigid.

“They would never be pure,
but they were expected to attack the tarnish daily.”

peat fire with kettle

Brigid uses her hands to heal. 

Brigid, nearing her fortieth birthday, has come to the island from the American state of Maine.  The daughter of a lighthouse keeper, Brigid is no stranger to hard work and hardship herself. Her mother’s family were from this island, and now she has returned…  A widow who has suffered many miscarriages, she longs for a child of her own.  She hopes that the island’s holy well will bring about a miracle and bring her a child and the peace she has craved all her life.

Brigid befriends a stray and half starved dog whom she names Rua. She is her constant companion. “She loved that stupid creature as if it were her own child and not a dog at all”.

But Brigid has come to an island with a dying way of life, one that is soon to end, for the islanders are to be relocated to the mainland.

“the sea looks like a calm blue walkway pretending as though it never tries to trap them in rage.”

Two men in a curragh circa 1960

This is a story rich with Irish folklore about strong and resilient Irish women.  A novel which poses the question: If you want and crave something strong enough… can YOU MAKE it happen? Historical fiction liberally doused throughout with magical realism – with themes of motherhood, superstition, betrayal, suspicion, endurance, loneliness, and grief.

“When something is stolen from you, it is sometimes easier to act like you never wanted it in the first place.”

As a background tale, the novel also tells of the history of the Celtic saint Brigid, and her colony of medieval pagan nuns that once inhabited the island.  The nuns lived a harsh and brutal existence, residing in pairs in beehive-shaped stone huts called clochans. Like the protagonists of the novel, they too were women fending for themselves in dire circumstances. 

“There is a striking similarity between anticipation and dread”.

Written with beautiful language and turns of phrase, the story causes the reader to become enraptured by the women, the island, and even St. Brigid herself. The author took five years to write “The stolen child” which was inspired by Kieran Concannon’s documentary film, “Death of an island“. Highly recommended!

I wish to thank HarperCollins publishers who provided me with a digital copy of this novel via Edelweiss. A perfect addition to my “Reading Ireland” month entries.

“The stolen child” is available for purchase at the following retail booksellers:


Lisa Carey‘s award-winning novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for film.

Born in Massachusetts, Lisa Carey lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their son – and returns to Ireland whenever she can.

Posted in book reviews, Edelweiss title, Favorite books, Historical fiction | Tagged , | 16 Comments

New on my radar: “Seas of snow” by Kerensa Jennings #TBR

I received an email today telling me of a new, debut psychological thriller.  It sounded SO brilliant, that I thought I’d spread the word and share the latest addition to my TBR!


A psychological thriller that explores whether evil is born or made.

Is evil born or made?

Seas of Snow is a story of broken trust and shattered dreams. Of consequences. Of a life lifted and liberated by poetry. Of a life haunted by darkness and lived in fear.

This is the tale of Gracie Scott, who becomes fascinated by the work of Rainer Maria Rilke and delights in his words for guidance and succour. But when her psychopath uncle Joe enters her life, is poetry enough?

Alternating between contemporary North Tyneside and around the time of World War Two, Seas of Snow dances through time, backwards and forwards between the literary reveries and troubles of the young girl, and the old woman of today, frail and isolated in a nursing home.

Seas of Snow is a bleak psychological thriller about trust and betrayal told with a distinctive and complex narrative voice.

from Penguin Books:

1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.

As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.

But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?

Take a look at the booktrailer for “Seas of snow“.

Karensa Jennings shares her thoughts on what inspired “Seas of snow.

Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor.

Kerensa’s TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology, and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life- changing events of 9/11.

The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.

As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and has developed a career in digital enterprise to help inspire young people across the UK and unlock their potential.

Seas of Snow is her first novel.

Posted in Debut novels, Psychological thrillers | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

“Controlled explosions” by Claire McGowan (a novella)

A prequel novella, “Controlled explosions” introduces readers to Claire McGowan’s Paula Maguire series. When I read that Ken Bruen proclaimed her to be ‘Ireland’s answer to Ruth Rendell, I knew I had to check this series out.
Paula Maguire, the series protagonist is a forensic psychologist who was born in a border town in Northern Ireland. She is the daughter of a Catholic policeman in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and a mother who was suspected to have been ‘taken’ by the IRA.

In “Controlled explosions” we visit Paula when she is in her last year of school. Five years ago, her mother disappeared when Paula was just thirteen.  She was rumoured to be a ‘tout‘ (a word used to describe informers in Northern Ireland). Her father, busy with his high stress job, is of little aid to her when she is relentlessly bullied at school. She feels so alone – somehow apart from the other teenagers with their teenage pursuits. We learn of her first crush, and her aspirations for her future.  She wants to attend university and get as far away as she can, thus escaping her little Irish border town.

Set in 1998, the novella gives readers a glimpse of Paula’s family life at the same time providing a snapshot of the senseless ‘troubles and how the Irish people were impacted by the years of strife.  The “Good Friday Agreement” was just signed, and the Irish were wary of how this will further impact their country and their lives…

I enjoyed the writing and plan to pursue the series.  I must ascertain if Ken Bruen’s comparison to Ruth Rendell stands true after all.  I imagine that folks who have already read the series would like to go back and read of Paula Maguire as a teenage girl.  If, like me, you haven’t yet read the series, you will also enjoy this early glimpse into the life of the series’ protagonist.  

I purchased this novella in Kindle format because I was curious about the Paula Maguire series – and because I wanted it to be one of my “Reading Ireland Month” entries.

You can purchase “Controlled Explosions” at the following retail booksellers (it was FREE today when I created these links)

Born in Northern Ireland in 1981, Claire’s debut standalone novel, The Fall, was published in early 2012. She swiftly followed up with The Lost, the first in a devastating news series featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and Claire soon gained a strong following. The Dead Ground was career defining and led Ken Bruen to proclaim her as ‘Ireland’s answer to Ruth Rendell’. In 2015 she published her debut e-short, Controlled Explosions, in anticipation of the release of The Silent Dead, the third exciting novel in the Paula Maguire series. Now she follows up with A Savage Hunger.

Claire studied in Oxford then lived overseas in France and China. She was the first Director of the Crime Writers’ Association and is now Senior Lecturer in Crime Thriller Writing at City University London. For more information about Claire look at her website or follow her on Twitter @inkstainsclaire.

She also writes women’s fiction under the name Eva Woods.

Posted in Mystery fiction, Novellas, Series order | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

“The beautiful dead” by Belinda Bauer

When you read a lot of thrillers like I do, reading that a book features a serial killer is almost to be expected.  However, if you think THIS novel is just another serial killer novel, you would be sadly underestimating it.  It was written by Belinda Bauer – therefore it is brilliant!

Eve Singer is twenty-nine years old and makes her living off of other’s people’s traumas. She is a television journalist working what her colleagues call the ‘meat beat’.  Accidents and murders are standard fare, the bloodier the better.  That’s what the viewers crave. She is ambitious, but at what cost?

As if her working life wasn’t enough to jade her perspective, her home life would do it for sure. She lives with her Dad who is in his mid-fifties and suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. She has a carer to sit with him whilst she is at work, but evenings and weekends are all on her.  It is an arduous, soul-wrenching, and thankless endeavor.  He seldom knows who she is.

Because of her circumstances, Eve is a loner.  She doesn’t want anyone to know just how dismal her life has become. Not even her work partner, her cameraman, knows the true extent of her misery and disheartenment.  Three years his elder, she is quite fond of Joe, but won’t open herself up to him thinking she is too old and jaded for him.

Eve’s next door neighbour is an odd old duck.  Mr. Elias is a widower who keeps his property and environs in a fastidious manner.  He has always seemed disapproving to Eve – who imagines him to be a ‘dirty old man’.  He is not. Lonely and misunderstood, he cleans the neighbourhood red phone box, making it the pride of the street.  He made me think of ‘Norris Cole’ on Coronation Street.  He will prove to be a valuable ally for Eve.

The story, which takes place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, goes back and forth from Eve’s point of view to that of the ‘killer’.  He is a tragic and twisted figure to be sure.  When he was just a child he had a serious surgery. Hearing a grown-up comment that he was living on ‘borrowed time‘, he took the comment literally. Now, in his perverse brain, he believes that by killing other people he will live longer. He anticipates the death of others believing that their time that is cut short will be added on to his time.

When Eve covers one of his crimes he notices her – and follows her home!  Terrified, as only a woman alone on a street at night can be when she hears footsteps behind her, Eve does the unexpected.  She turns around, confronts him, and asks him to walk her home.  The killer is so taken aback that someone actually trusts him, he spares Eve’s life.  Then he feels that they are connected in some way – that she understands his needs.

He makes Eve privy to his plans, the result of which she witnesses a grisly killing in a busy London underground station.

William Stafford Vandenberg lives alone in a mansion flat.  Empty now because he has either sold or burned all of its contents. ‘Psycho‘-like, his mother lies in a bed upstairs.  She has been dead for years…  His crimes escalate.  Each time he kills someone he gives advance warning in the form of a ‘flyer’.  This fact is discovered by Eve, who gives the information to the police.  When Eve’s life is threatened, the police supply her with a bodyguard.  What a joke she thinks! Her ‘bodyguard’ is a five-foot tall, one hundred pound woman!  But, Emily Aguda is a force to be reckoned with – as Eve soon finds out.  The fact that people underestimate Emily Aguda is in fact her greatest strength.

The novel is fast paced throughout, but the final chapters whiz by as the tension ratchets up even more.  When Eve’s father is threatened and abducted by Vandenberg, she tries to take back control of her life – to her peril.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The beautiful dead“.  Bauer’s writing is of high caliber and her pacing and characterization is top notch.  Highly recommended to all who love suspense fiction.  If you think it is something you would enjoy, add it to your Goodreads TBR.

You can purchase “The beautiful dead” at the following retail book outlets:




Thanks to Grove Atlantic via NetGalley, who provided me with a digital copy of this novel in the understanding that I might write a review. Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa and now lives in Wales. She worked as a journalist and a screenwriter before finally writing a book to appease her nagging mother. With her debut, Blacklands, Belinda was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. She went on to win the CWA Dagger in the Library for her body of work in 2013. Her fourth novel Rubbernecker was voted 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her books have been translated into 21 languages.

Posted in book reviews, NetGalley title, Page turners, Psychological thrillers, Suspense | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments