This is Book 5 in the Simon Serrailler series, detective fiction at its best, with well-drawn characters and a sound plot. This was the sort of book, where, as in Agatha Christie, you have to pick the murderer from a limited number of characters. (Btw, I guessed correctly!)
This story, as always, centred around the cathedral city of Lafferton. Much is made of the fact that Serrailler eventually found his man through chance – which he did – but we, as readers, have moved on from wanting a Christie show-down in the final chapter, with everyone sitting around in one room making comments like “I say, Poirot…” The plot still worked, very well.
Although the crime element concerns the murders of a series of prostitutes, the story touches upon the conflict arising when a new ‘happy-clappy’ dean arrives in the cathedral close. Unlike many other authors who occasionally feature such things, Susan writes authoritatively about church issues, and with insight as to how church people feel, think and interact with each other. The prostitutes in the book were also sympathetically drawn, especially plucky Abby Righton, who desperately wanted to give up the game, but couldn’t see how to manage it.
It is noticeable that detectives created in the ‘English school of murder’ tradition (as distinct from Noir) tend to have a cosy family set-up – think of Ruth Rendell’s ‘Wexford’, W J Burley’s ‘Wycliffe’, Alexander Maccall Smith’s ‘Mma Ramotswe’ and even Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’. Serrailler has his loving (recently widowed) sister, ‘Cat’, his nieces and nephews, his tetchy father and diplomatic stepmother. In fact, Cat features far more than Simon Serrailler himself, and I found myself welcoming her on to page each time. Simon was, I think, supposed to appear remote, but actually comes across as rather sketchy in this story, and, if this had been the first book I’d read in the series, I wouldn’t have got to know him at all. Other – complex and therefore interesting – characters were (wrongly accused) ‘Leslie Blade’ and the very weak dean, ‘Stephen Webber’, entirely manipulated by others around him.
Did I enjoy this book? Oh yes. I love detective fiction… possibly because I could never write it. Did I learn much from it as a writer? Well, possibly.