Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Soul of Discretion, by Susan Hill

So, I had an interesting experience while reading this book, and the seven that come before it, during a binge-reading episode during November and December, in that I read it at the same time that I caught up on the Peter Grant/Rivers of London/The Folly series by Ben Aaronovitch. They’re two such very different series – not just in that one is urban fantasy and one is realist crime (although that’s not even a remotely complete description), but also that the writing styles are so radically different that it took me quite a while to bring my brain from one to the other. When I read the Aaronovitch series, I came away with the feeling that this would make a fantastic modern episodic television show (in fact, it has been optioned not that that’s any sort of a guarantee of anything), with its continuity and plot arcs as well as character arcs; when I read the Hill series, I came away with the feeling that this would in no way make a good arced television show, but would make a great character development mystery show, with the focus on character development instead of plot continuity.

 

It’s not that Hill lacks plot, I hasten to add.  There is definitely plot. But it’s less of the storyboard, this happens so then this happens kind of plot, and more of the things happen and this is what they tell us kind of plot. You can pick up any one of the Simon Serrailler books and not be lost – what happens with the mystery in one book doesn’t necessarily carry over to another (with one exception). What does carry over are the character events – children, marriages, promotions, moves, deaths. And because the timeframe of the books – both within each book and between the books in the series, months and years pass – it’s like catching up with friends that you don’t see very often (and who aren’t on Facebook).

 

What really sets Susan Hill’s series apart from other series that I’ve read is her focus on thematic continuity within each book, rather than plot progression. Each book features any number of point-of-view characters, not just Simon Serrailler, and some of them may not ever even interact with Simon or play a part in the central crime that’s being investigated. But every single section, every single POV character, reflects whatever the central theme of the book is.  It’s actually a bit jarring if you’re used to more traditionally structured series, at least until you get used to it.

 

The Soul of Discretion is the most recent novel in the Simon Serrailler series. The theme of this one is sex, particularly problematic sex. Simon’s assigned to a dangerous undercover operation, sent to infiltrate a pedophile ring that features the great and the not-so-good – MPs and Lords and other public figures. His girlfriend has just moved in with him, the first woman who’s ever had such a permanent presence in his apartment, and he’s having a harder time than expected dealing with the fact that his sanctuary is being shared. (Simon’s history with and treatment of women is a running concern of his triplet Cat, and in this book she works with Rachel to help her establish a life outside of Simon.) Cat herself, a constant in these books, is still struggling with her idealism toward the medical profession as it conflicts with the reality of the bureaucracy of the NHS – but it’s their father Richard, who’s been physically abusive toward his second wife in previous volumes, who demonstrates the theme when he rapes a fellow Mason’s wife at a party, shining an incredibly harsh spotlight on the treatment of women in rape cases (spoiler: she’s not treated well, by Richard (obviously), her own husband, or the system).

 

It’s a troubling book overall, because the theme is so troubling (the details of the pedophile ring are somewhat glossed over, but their extent and nature isn’t, and the rape certainly isn’t), but it is mesmerising. I don’t think I like Susan Hill very much as a person, but she can definitely write.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

So last year was kind of a big year for me. My partner and I went to the US to visit my family (first time for him; I hadn’t been back in over three years), we bought a house, I got promoted twice, and we got engaged. That’s in chronological order, by the way. March to early November.

So that didn’t leave a whole lot of time for, you know, other stuff. Like my blogs. Or writing that’s not for Publisher’s Weekly. (And not a lot of reading that’s not for Publisher’s Weekly – I won’t read a new book until I’ve finished a review, for fear of getting things mixed up in my head.) Or anything that wasn’t just collapsing on the couch or staring at a different kind of screen (….we may have also played a lot of Crusader Kings 2 and Final Fantasy).

But this year is going to be different! And one of the ways that it’s going to be different is that we’re now saving for a trip to my sister in California in 2015 and two weddings in 2016 (ah, the joys of a multi-nationality relationship), so I’m going to be buying a lot fewer of the “oh they’re only 99p” Kindle deals, and the Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Off temptations at Smiths and Waterstones. By which I mean none. No spending on books. (Free books are still okay.) Which means a lot more of reading what I already have, what is on my shared-with-my-mom-and-sister Kindle account, and what is public domain.

In other words, reading a lot more of the type of thing that I then want to write about. I have nothing against Mills and Boon, obviously, I want to write for them someday – but I don’t usually feel inspired to analyse, critique, or sing the praises of each individual book in the Desire or Blaze lines. (Mills and Boon in general though….)

I’m also keeping a reading log again, in Google Drive for easy access. Since Christmas Day, I’ve finished six books and started three others, at least one of which I won’t read all of – I skipped to the end, and the other two I’m debating about – they’re not really grabbing me at the moment. I’m also in the middle of several “big” books – a few non-fiction ones on the Kindle – a history of the Mediterranean that I started possibly over a year ago, a biography of Oswald of Northumbria that’s entitled “King of the North” to get the Game of Thrones fans in – Lorna Doone, and Don Quixote. Pretty sure I’ll have things to say about all of those, once I’m done with them.

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Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the fourth in the Rivers of London/Peter Grant/The Folly series. Now you may remember that I really enjoyed the first book and, in fact, suggested that it might make a good episodic television show. Nothing in the second, third, or fourth books has changed my mind about that. If anything, my feeling that this would be a good television series has been reinforced, both by reading this series and by reading the Simon Serrailler series by Susan Hill.

 

Each of Aaronovitch’s books is an episode, with an individual plot that is resolved by the end of that book, but which also gives more hints and progression about the overarching story. Broken Homes focuses on a council estate/apartment block which has been specifically designed to accentuate magic. We’ve got some new characters, and new focuses. There’s the now-deceased architect who was a secret practitioner and the dryad who inhabits the council estate’s garden (although it’s spring, so she’s a bit….distracted), for example. Characters from previous books are here as well – the Rivers, and Lesley, and of course Nightingale; there are hints throughout that lead up to the Faceless Man (although the ending comes as a surprise even so), leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that not only lead Peter and Lesley through to the revelations about the council estate, but also lead to the latest piece in the Faceless Man mystery.

 

I don’t know if Ben Aaronovitch has a set number of books that he’s intending to write in this series; I can easily see the first six or so being the battle against the Faceless Man (I haven’t read Foxglove Summer yet, but I can’t picture it being the last one – it doesn’t feel quite ramped up enough yet – but then I could be entirely wrong about that) and then moving on to another arc and another backstory. I sincerely hope he does – I’ve gotten to really care about Peter and Lesley and Nightingale and Molly, and I want to see what further quirks this magical sub-culture throws up toward urban London life.

 

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