A Question of Identity
Susan Hill
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Buy *A Question of Identity (A Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler Mystery)* by Susan Hillonline

A Question of Identity (A Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler Mystery)
Susan Hill
Overlook Trade Paperbacks
368 pages
October 2013
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Hill’s police procedural beings in 2002 with a murder trial featuring a primary witness whose evidence is flawed. Alan Frederick Keyes is alleged to have slipped out late at night to a complex of sheltered bungalows and murdered three elderly women. With blood on his hands, Keyes’s guilt produces a roaring mass of hatred even when the jury delivers a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Keyes's acceptance of police protection connects him to present-day Lafferton and the lives of Cat Deerborn and Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler.

A bitter northeast wind scours Lafferton’s pavements. Under a “flayed sky,” Cat still works as a palliative care doctor at her hospice, Imogen House. While she looks after Jocelyn Forbes (a character from the previous novel in the terminal stages of illness), Cat must come to the rescue of trauma-riddled assistant Molly, and also to her teenage daughter, Hanna, who is up for a film part.

Simon, meanwhile, remains fixated on Rachel, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Rachel remains generous and understanding of both Simon’s job and his personality, even though she stays married to a man in the late stages of a debilitating illness who has given his tacit blessing to her relationship. Although talented Simon himself remains distant and almost unknowable, we begin to learn about him though Cat. Clearly she loves her handsome brother, but she worries about his lack of security and happiness that can only come with a solid home base.

Hill's skill lies in her ability to create memorable characters and make the village of Lafferton atmospheric. As the layers of the mystery unpeel like the layers of an onion, Hill draws the reader deep into the lives of all of the residents. The mystery centers on twelve bungalows at the Duchess of Cornwall Close, where Elinor Sanders has come to live from Newcastle. When Serrailler and coroner Nick de Silva find her strangled, the murder bears all the hallmarks of their worst nightmare: the clever, ruthless killer who murders for sick reasons of his own. Taking the head in the investigation, Simon is well and truly stumped even as he must attend to other, more clearly defined personal problems.

A story of pure evil crashes on Lafferton and Simon Serrailler, the past getting mixed up with the present in a vicious cycle of death that touches everyone. On the trail of a dangerous killer, Simon realizes that this is the sort of case likely to be solved in the course of some painstaking routine, repetitive police work. Although the winter’s frost covers the pristine, bucolic village, the streets cannot camouflage the blood that covers this place. The murderer appears as a sinister voice from the start of the book, contributing a slow and twisted rationale for his crimes.

Death and betrayal in many forms permeate the disparate plot line in which a broken man must try to rise above the ugliness of his painful past and a placid community is rocked by a macabre killer. Although not one of her best efforts, in A Question of Identity, Hill does manage to create a vital sense of urgency, even when Simon seems at times more interested in Rachel than in the case.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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