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Sunday, 11 October 2020

‘The Benefit of Hindsight’ by Susan Hill

Published by Vintage,
1st October 2020. 
ISBN: 978-1-52911054-8  (PB)

Something which has always intrigued me is the way authors of series fiction succeed in ringing the changes, so that stories involving the same characters and set in the same environment remain fresh and engaging.

There are always new characters, of course, some just passing through, others destined to stay around. Sometimes, too, the environment changes; the two previous titles in Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series took place away from familiar territory. But in The Benefit of Hindsight, the tenth in this absorbing series, the action is firmly back in the cathedral town of Lafferton, which Serrailler himself and most of his family call home. And the result is a novel which feels both familiar and new.

Serrailler is back in his old job, head of CID at Lafferton Police, despite having lost an arm in the course of an undercover assignment in an earlier volume. His prosthetic is working perfectly, and in most respects he is back to normal – until a case of robbery that escalated into murder means he has to visit a victim in hospital. He finds himself crippled by flashbacks and panic attacks, which begin to affect his ability to investigate not only that robbery and murder, but also two associated crimes – though being the strong, silent type, he is reluctant to admit it.

In true Susan Hill style, there’s a lot more going on as well. Serrailler’s other life as a talented artist takes him into the roof of the cathedral, and to London, where the panic attacks reach crisis point. His sister Cat, the kind of GP we all wish would be around when we’re ailing, has a mystery of her own to solve. Cat is married to the Chief Constable, which can give rise to a whole other set of issues. Other family members have their own problems. And romance lurks around the edges; after all, Serrailler is single, comfortably off and drop-dead gorgeous. 

I’ve been an unashamed fan of this series since it began sixteen years ago, and though I was happy to follow Simon Serrailler to whatever part of the globe his adventures took him, it was good to be back in the comfort zone of Lafferton. For a small and fairly sleepy cathedral town, it does seem to play host to a remarkable amount of crime; robbery and violent death are only part of it this time around. It was interesting to see the cathedral through the eyes of an artist; and watching Serrailler’s very normal family interact always offers an occasional relaxing interlude in the course of the crime-fighting.

The Benefit of Hindsight is definitely a novel I’d recommend for rainy weekend afternoons on the sofa.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Susan Hill has been a professional writer for over fifty years. Her books have won awards and prizes including the Whitbread, the John Llewellyn Rhys and the Somerset Maugham; and have been shortlisted for the Booker. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Honours. Her novels include Strange Meeting, I’m the King of the Castle, In the Springtime of the Year and A Kind Man. She has also published autobiographical works and collections of short stories as well as the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels. The play of her ghost story The Woman in Black has been running in London’s West End since 1988. She has two adult daughters and lives in North Norfolk.

Lynne Patrick
has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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