Book review: The Soul of Discretion

the soul of discretion by susan hill 10-9-14Lafferton, England. A naked child wanders down a street. A woman is raped at a black tie Freemansons’ Dinner. Detective Simon Serrailler is coming to terms with his girlfriend moving into his flat which now seems very small and confined, no longer his own private space. His widowed sister is struggling for money and must decide what to do about it. His stepmother is struggling to deal with the detective’s increasingly irritable and irascible father. Serrailler’s girlfriend feels like the lodger in her boyfriend’s flat. And then Serrailler is posted undercover.

This is the eighth novel about detective Simon Serrailler and as far as I’m concerned, Susan Hill can continue writing them until kingdom comes. I have read them all over the years, but this is the first I have reviewed [something I will remedy over the coming year]. Serrailler is a thoughtful, solitary-minded detective, surrounded by a family which, in The Soul of Discretion, has its own crises. But the central thread of the book, which kept me reading late into the night, was Serrailler going undercover. In this book, you wonder if he will live or die. I read this book in 24 hours, including a night’s sleep. The subject matter is difficult, the nastiest child abuse, and to go undercover Serrailler must know his subject, be able to act the part of a ‘nonce’, he must look as if he likes the nasty stuff.



Susan Hill [above] doesn’t show us the unpleasantness, she lets us imagine it by showing us Serrailler’s reaction. He becomes Johnno Miles and we take every step with him as he goes to prison, the aim to get close to a prisoner who it is hoped holds the key to unlocking a prolific child abuse ring. With him is a James Bond-style watch with coded buttons to send messages to HQ, except it is a cheap black plastic watch, not a Rolex. There are a lot of heart-in-mouth passages, Hill’s writing makes you turn page after page. And just when you get to a key bit, the chapter ends and the attention switches – to Cat who is trying to decide whether to work for a hospice or a GP practice, or his stepmother Judith on holiday in France with his father, or Serrailler’s girlfriend Rachel who is opening a bookshop – and you get an emotional breather from the tension. But all the stories are linked, in the end.

Click here for Susan Hill’s website and more information about her books.
‘The Soul of Discretion’ by Susan Hill [UK: Chatto & Windus, published October 2, 2014]

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