Andrew Taylor reviews the fourth novel in Susan Hill’s crime series
The Vows of Silence is the fourth novel in Susan Hill’s crime series. Like its predecessors, it is concerned with murder and its investigation in and around a cathedral city known as Lafferton, and with the lives of those concerned. The central character of the series, Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler, is now working for the Serious Incident Flying Taskforce. Serrailler is a civilised but solitary man who finds personal relationships difficult even with his family — with the exception of his sister Cat, a local GP, her husband and young children. His sense of isolation is increased by the presence of a new colleague whom he finds it hard to like.
The novel opens with a man stalking and shooting a stag, which serves as the prologue for the main business of the plot. A gunman is preying with uncanny precision on Lafferton’s young women. His victims are brides, both potential and recent. There are no clues. The professionalism of the marksman and the apparently random nature of the shootings have turned the case into a nightmare for the investigating officers. The police cannot even be sure that there is only one killer.
Panic spreads through the town. Two forthcoming events increase the already unbearable pressure on the police to get results: the Jug Fair, a large and long-established local jamboree; and the cathedral wedding of the Lord Lieutenant’s daughter, a ceremony which some prominent Royal guests are expected to attend.
There is another, thematically linked strand to the narrative. This concerns Serrailler’s private life. This family is still grieving for two recent deaths when Cat’s husband, another GP, is diagnosed with a brain lesion.