Publisher: Chatto and Windus
Publication date: 2nd June 2005 (paperback)
The second in Hill’s crime series featuring Chief Detective Inspector Simon Serrailler, The Pure in Heart is another assured piece of sensitive and absorbing writing. Called back from a holiday in Venice when his severely disabled youngest sister, Martha, contracts pneumonia, Simon finds himself heading up the investigation into the disappearance of a nine year old boy, David Angus, who has vanished without a trace. Glad to have something to distract him from the feelings that last year’s shocking murder stirred up, Simon throws himself into the case with the help of Nathan Coates, newly promoted to Detective Sergeant.
As with The Various Haunts of Men, this novel concentrates more on the community of Lafferton and its reaction to the crime than actual police work. Simon himself is far more present in this novel than the first in the series, and he reveals himself to be highly contradictory. He can be generous, lively and amusing but also cold, distant and intensely private, which causes problems when Diana, a woman with whom he had a casual affair in past years, develops possessive tendencies despite his indifference and, indeed, disgust.
Cat Deerbon, Simon’s sister, is the heart of the novel. Pregnant with her third child, she finds herself deeply upset by David’s disappearance, especially in addition to her family’s own situation with Martha. The disintegration of David’s family is also profoundly affecting. The portrait of a grieving family is shown in such intimate detail that it feels almost voyeuristic. Details such as his mother adding cold water because she shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of a hot bubble bath whilst her son is missing are brilliantly and sensitively observed.
As readers might have gathered, it’s not a cheerful book and although I didn’t personally find it as upsetting as The Various Haunts of Men, I can imagine that anyone with children might find the descriptions of David’s captivity and his mother’s grief highly emotive. However, the quality of Hill’s writing prevents the depiction of such naked emotions from feeling gratuitous. There are many loose ends remaining at the end of the novel and this might be frustrating to some readers; for me, it just made me hanker for the next book (which, luckily, was waiting for me on the bookcase). The Pure at Heart wasn’t as satisfying as Serrailler’s first outing but, as one in a series, it’s a excellent read.
This review was originally written for New Books Magazine September/October.