* Prices may differ from that shown
I first read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill and was amazed at how enjoyable the book was. I then searched for more of her books and bought several of them. The Pure in the Heart is the second book of a series of crime novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler. It is set in an English town called Lafferton.
This particular book is based around several different stories: that of a young boy who is snatched from the front of his house whilst he is waiting for a lift to school from his friend's father, the severely handicapped younger sister of Simon Serrailler who is facing a certain death at the hands of another pneumonia attack and the story of an ex con recently released from prison who is unable to stick to the straight and narrow. All of the characters are so well created that they seem almost realistic and the stories appear to be based on real life - as attention to detail is so strong.
Throughout the story, there are many twists and turns, unexpected things arising - the perfect mix for a crime novel. Having said this though, it is not so much a crime novel in its true self, it would be better to describe it as more of a novel based around different characters with a missing child investigation thrown in. Little time is actually spent when it comes to the investigation, and the time spent on the investigation is usually repeated throughout the book. It would be fair to say that more time is spent focusing on the impact of Simon's mother's friend's divorce and the impact it has on her, than the actual investigation itself.
I don't want to spoil the ending, but the culprit is not discovered in this book, but instead is discovered in the sequel The Risk of Darkness. I felt that this was rather a let down and should have been finished in one book.
On the whole this is an incredibly well written book and is full of suspense. Some sections do seem to drag on a bit but it is still a good read.
I would recommend that you read the first book in the series as this contains more detail about Simon Serrailler and his family, plus some events from the previous book are mentioned, although this is not entirely necessary, as enough explanation of the preceding events is given.
I think that most people would enjoy this book as it is very well written and easy to read.
It can be bought from most bookshops, Amazon and ebay and probably a local charity shop as that is where I purchased my copy from.
The Pure in Heart is Susan Hill's follow-up to The Various Haunts of Men, which introduced the world to DCI Simon Serailler and his family. The events of this book take place approximately 12 months after the first, and concentrate on efforts to find a missing child and his abductor.
Straight away, an important thing to say is that you will definitely get more from this book if you have already read Haunts. It builds on events and characters introduced there, and there are constant references back to it. You can just about read Pure in Heart as a standalone book, but there will be several sections which do not make much sense to you. Hill simply assumes you will have read the first, and often only bothers briefly (if at all) to explain some of her references. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that if you have not read the first book for a long time, you would also be advised to go back and re-read it before progressing to Pure in Heart. You will get much more out of it!
The central plot purportedly surrounds the attempts of Lafferton police force to track down an abducted child. Whilst part of the plot does indeed concentrate on this angle, a much larger part looks at the main character - DCI Simon Serrailler - and his relationship with the various members of his family and friends. At times, it reads more like a soap opera or family drama than a piece of police fiction. This will be highly off-putting to some. If you like your detective stories fast-paced with lots of red herrings, plenty of suspects and a series of gradually released clues designed to tantalise you as to who the criminal is, you will find Pure in Heart deeply frustrating. If, on the other hand, you like books where the plot is authentic, but slow-paced and essentially dull (after all, much police work is leg work and filling in forms), then you will be gripped by the realism of Pure in Heart.
There's also a series of sub-plots involving Serailler's family and other characters. Some have criticised these for being dull and predictable and I can see where they are coming from - there are certainly no real surprises. At the same time, though, they reflect the realistic nature of the book and hold a mirror up to real life, which makes them feel true.
What makes the book work so well is the realistic nature of the characters. They all truly feel like real people, rather than something dreamed up by an author. They are well-rounded and have genuine feelings and emotions. They can be funny, angry, supportive, stupid, stubborn, infuriating - everything real people are. They are not cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes; there are no "good" or "bad" characters, just people. There's the ex-criminal, for example, who desperately wants to go straight, but has lots of obstacles put in his way; Serrailler himself is capable of being kind and supportive one minute, then emotionless and cruel the next.
At all times, you do feel that you are being given an insight into the real lives of real people. That these characters existed before you opened the book and will carry on with their lives even if you never finish it. They never feel like carefully constructed characters, deliberately created to service the needs of the plot. They have plenty of emotional baggage, but it never feels forced or contrived. Hill has the luxury of knowing that she can build on these characters throughout an arc of three books, so she can take her time with them.
Hill's writing style supports this. She is always interesting, providing enough details about police procedural work to make things convincing, without getting bogged down in so much detail that the plot becomes dull. She writes in relatively short chapters and has a very readable style which gives the book that compulsive element. The book is actually around 500 pages long, but it never feels like that. It's so compelling that most people will read through it in just a few days and be left wanting more.
The Pure in Heart is very much a bridging book. It builds and develops the themes initially explored in The Various Haunts of Men and sets up further plots and themes to be investigated in future instalments. In particular, the concluding chapters are very open-ended, clearly paving the way for the third book in the series (already published). It leaves numerous plot strands deliberately dangling or unresolved, to be picked up later. Again, this is true to life (and hence, true to the tone of the book), but will infuriate some readers. As the concluding chapters make clear, sometimes, there are no neat endings. Sometimes, loose ends remain frustratingly unresolved for years, possibly for ever. In truth, I'm probably one of those people who would normally find this annoying. In this instance, though, I actually found the ending made the book all the more interesting and compelling. It made me want to go on and read the third (and to date) final book in the series immediately. Which is just what I'm off to do now...
The Pure in Heart
Available from Amazon new for £5.49 or second hand from 1p.
© Copyright SWSt 2008