Posted in Books I have read

The Stranger House – Reginald Hill

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction
4*’s

Reginald Hill departs from his normal genre of detective fiction in The Stranger House, instead we have one mystery that spans decades to the forced migration of children to Australia and another that goes back centuries to the time of the reformation.

Sam Flood, Australian and former priest, Miguel Madro who is half-Spanish, meet at The Stranger House in Illthwaite, Cumbria. With the two strangers thrown together to uncover what happened to their ancestors they soon find that the villagers will close up as tight as a clam to protect the past from them because while they appear to help in finding out why Sam’s grandmother was shipped off to Australia they are actually working frantically to conceal the past from her.

Reginald Hill moves the subjects covered seamlessly from mathematics which is Sam Flood’s speciality to Nordic myths from the supernatural to historical records, this book has so many layers that as a reader even in the slower middle section there is much to ponder and wonder about. The villagers if not the stars of the show are certainly deserve the best supporting cast moniker, with the mix of fantastically ugly identical twins, the half-truths told and the mysterious contests held to liven up the days such as the gurning competition.

A book so dense in detail and one that covers the present, past and recent past it all sounds a bit heavy, and in the hands of a less accomplished writer could easily be a turgid read, but we are lucky that Reginald Hill is a master of adding a light touch with a touch of humour to ease the complexity at just the right moments. I struggle reading about the supernatural, often this will make me put the book aside in disbelief and annoyance however once again Hill judges his readers capacity for reality and within the claustrophobic setting of the small village where secrets are kept to hide other secrets this aspect complemented rather than overwhelmed the plot. This isn’t a story of good and bad, or to use the disparate protagonist’s characteristics one of logic and spiritual, instead expect a mixture of shades of grey with multifarious conclusions to be taken.

So with fantastic characters, a plot that you feel has been carefully paced to get the maximum reaction The Stranger House is a perfect standalone novel from this wonderful author whose books are always a pleasure to read.

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

17 thoughts on “The Stranger House – Reginald Hill

  1. I’ve not read any of Hill’s standalone novels, as he lost me during some of the later Dalziel and Pascoe novels, where he seemed to care much less about putting an interesting plot in the book – Death’s Jest Book was the tipping point, I think. Maybe I’ll give this one a try. Thanks for the review.

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  2. Bizarrely, I’ve never read Reginald Hill – I think I was put off by the TV adaptations which he probably had nothing to do with! I have one or two of his in the house I’ve picked up second hand, so must make the effort to read him – all his many fans can’t be wrong!

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    1. The advantage of Hill is that he was so popular I can always pick up a second hand copy of one of his books. I liked Daziel and Pascoe series but his standalone books are equally good – The Woodcutter is a firm favourite of mine.

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      1. Ah – now that one I think I have, doubtless in one of the boxes of books I’ve yet to unpack since our move. And you’re right, they’re always in second hand shops. Must catch up on him – all you guys and his many other fans can’t be wrong!

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  3. Cleo – What a fine review, for which thanks. I really admire the way Hill was able to not only create his fine series, but also do some very excellent standalones. This is an example of that.

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  4. I know I’ve read this since for decades I read every Hill on publication day, but as I read your review I realise I barely remember it. Really must try to fit in some re-reads… I always preferred the Dalziel & Pascoe’s to the standalones though, overall, and I have a soft spot for Joe Sixsmith too.

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    1. Re-reads are so hard to fit in when the TBR is enormous. It wasn’t one of my favourite Hill books but when the bar is so high it is hard to be objective. Every time I pick up one of this author’s books it amazes me at how much he knew about so many different subjects and I do like a book that is clever. You’ve mentioned Joe Sixsmith to me before and I haven’t read any of these so of course I need to 😉

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      1. Oh you people! I love a clever book, and with only a couple of his grabbed in second hand shops, I can see I’ll probably adore his work, and have to add his ENTIRE and NOT INSIGNIFICANT body of work to my TBR pile! It was the Dalziel and Pascoe series which put me off – I hate it when they try to shoehorn a good, long novel into 2 hours (including ads.) Tbh I’m not much of a telly crime fan – though I do quite like Vera. And I once saw a Lewis (as they’d cancelled the advertised Vera at the last minute – I think it slightly mirrored a sensitive news story so was pulled.) It’s worse if I’ve read the books – I never watched any Rebus adaptations as I knew that’d spoil my mental pictures of all the characters. And I totally picture Tom Thorne as Mark Billingham. Which is strange, I know.

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        1. The only stuff I watch on tv tends to be crime dramas but it is hard to read the books afterwards because the tv characters colour your view of the protagonists. I’m fairly sure I haven’t read all of his books but I used to stalk the library for his latest releases because I always knew there would be elements I enjoy, he hasn’t let me down yet! There is a book sale coming up so I’ll see how many other cast-offs I can find to add to my shelves for rainy days and holidays:-)

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