In Lafferton, England, several people disappear from a place called The Hill: first a lonely, secretive, middle-aged woman, then another, much younger, overweight woman. Detective Freya Graffham, new to Lafferton, is sure that something is amiss, and she tries to connect these disappearances to the earlier vanishing of a young man on a bike. But there is not much in common between the victims, apart from where they were last sighted.

While we, readers, know from the start that a serial killer is on the loose, the clues are not obvious enough so that the police does not spend much resources on what could be after all voluntary disappearances. The novel also focuses on many other people interested, each for their own reasons, in alternative medicine or paranormal activities.

I am conflicted about this novel. I loved the first part, about all those people made ready for everything and incredibly gullible by despair, all in search of health, a meaningful life or a lost loved one. I also liked the fact that even though Simon Serrailler is Susan Hill’s main character and recurring DCI, we almost never have access to his consciousness (except briefly toward the end), so that he himself makes for one of the mysteries (mainly unsolved in the end) of the novel. This was an original touch, and a daring choice, not enjoyed by everyone, if I refer to some reviews I have read…

Unfortunately, the last hundred and fifty pages felt rushed to me, as if Susan Hill just wanted to finish quickly and be done with the novel. While she took much care in focusing on a different character in each chapter, allowing us a good knowledge of their inner preoccupations and goals, in the end, she just drops this, accelerating the rhythm and focusing on different characters in the same chapter, producing a messy effect and a rushed and partly unsatisfying conclusion. This could have been adequate if suspense had led the way, but it was strangely lacking. I felt let down in the sense that even the goal of the murderer remained a mystery: have I missed something? What did he ultimately wish to prove with his “experiment”?

I chose this novel because I read Ruth Rendell recommends it and she is one of my favorite writers. While I can see similarities with Rendell’s novels (dealing with outcasts, or more generally people, and their strange obsessions, for instance), I am still not sure whether I will read the other Simon Serrailler novels. I would compare this novel to a “bad” mystery by Rendell (which are still better than most mysteries around). It remains to be seen if Hill is able, as Rendell, to write good, or even excellent mysteries, I have read one previous novel by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black, a ghost story, which I enjoyed, but I really have to form a better opinion on her skills as a mystery writer…

Rating: 3/5