With the sixth Simon Serrailler mystery, the wonderful Susan Hill has given her readers a New Years gift that’s only missing its red bow. All of the delightful elements are here that make this acclaimed series one of the most highly anticipated in British mystery.

A gale passing through southwest England opens the action, affecting the characters in different ways.  The brooding Chief Superintendent has driven home from a friend’s wedding in Wales with the gale licking his heels. He’s tucked up warm and cozy, when the gale hits his flat in Cathedral Close and town of Lafferton with a vengance. At his sisters farmhouse, Cat Deerborn worries about Molly Lucas, the final year medical student who lives with her. Molly biked to the med school library and hasn’t returned home. Across town, arthritic Jocelyn Forbes faces the storm alone in her bedroom, wishing for someone to talk to about her deteriorating body.

Then just after midnight the river bursts its banks; streets and lanes fill up with flash flooding. Debris washes down the Moor into the road below and the hill becomes impassable, bringing with it stone, soil, branches, and along with this, bones from two shallow graves.

These bones bring Serrailler the chilling prospect of a complicated cold case involving prominent businessman John Lowther. Some of the bones belong to his daughter, Joanne, missing for twenty years, whose supposed death as a teenager led to her mother’s suicide. The others bones owner are harder to pin down and prove to be only the first of the surprising twists Hill has in store for her readers.

Lafferton’s force has been hit with budget cuts, and the shortage of staff finds Serrailler out doing the kind of legwork in this investigation he’s best suited for. The story lines threads and themes that follow Molly Lucas, learning how to manage the end of life in patients, and Jocelyn Forbes, facing hers, weave in and out of Serrailler’s investigation, as he tried to identify the second body while trying to learn what happened to Joanne Lowther.

Hill manages to wrap these disparate threads into a complex and highly satisfying plot, exploring the quality of life, what that really means, and whose decision it is to make that judgment.

A surprising twist in Serrailler’s personal life dovetails neatly with the novel’s theme but is not the only surprise Hill has in for her reader. This is a chillingly well-plotted novel, and Auntie M found the novel’s ending raised more questions than it answered and left her anxiously anticipating the next novel. Hill delves into the psychology of her characters in a way that makes them very human and allows her readers to relate to them with her deep empathy for the human condition.  Never one to take the expected pathway, fans of P D James and Ruth Rendell will find The Betrayal of Trust wholly satisfying and unable to put  down until the shocking last page is turned. It will be difficult to wait for the next installment.

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