Anita Brookner

A mystery unsolved

This is a compelling and somewhat disturbing novel, conducted with Susan Hill’s customary fluency.

This is a compelling and somewhat disturbing novel, conducted with Susan Hill’s customary fluency.

This is a compelling and somewhat disturbing novel, conducted with Susan Hill’s customary fluency. It features Simon Serailler, the author’s usual protagonist, investigating a cold case of a missing teenager who was last seen waiting at a bus stop some 16 years previously, and whose skeleton was found when heavy rain washed down sludge and rubble from a neighbouring hillside. But it also has a secondary theme — rather more serious than its ostensible subject — that of assisted suicide. Hypochondriacs are warned. What is examined, in admirable detail, somewhat overshadows the police procedural which is intricate and convincing. Thus there are two investigations in place which make demands on our attention on two very different levels. While they are both presented as being of equal weight, the one is clearly more important than the other and presents a conundrum which is difficult to ignore and impossible to solve.

First, the cold case. 16 years ago Harriet Lowther, a bright and confident 15-year-old, was seen waiting at a bus stop on her way to meet her mother in Lafferton, Serailler’s usual stamping ground. She failed to get on the bus and was never seen again. It was only when the landslip occurred that a set of bones was discovered, to be joined by a second set nearby. Forensic tests revealed both sets to be female. These now await Serailler’s expertise. He too has become a more rounded character, though still fastidious and artistic. He has fallen in love, but there are obstacles in his path, and it is these obstacles which link the purely fictitious account with the more intractable second subject. There is an ethical question here and it is not the usual one.

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