In the Cathedral town of Lafferton, England it’s about a year after the events of the first book in this series, The Various Haunts of Men. Several characters are still dealing with the fallout of that book’s rather shocking ending including DCI Simon Serailler who is on a sketching holiday in Venice. He’s called home because his younger sister Martha, who is mentally and physically handicapped, has been taken to hospital with pneumonia and might die. Serailler returns to work earlier than planned to head the investigation into the kidnapping of a young boy, David Angus, from outside of his home.
One of my observations about the first novel was that calling it a Simon Serailler story was bordering on false advertising given his relatively limited appearances. The same cannot be said of The Pure in Heart which is very much Simon’s story. His love of his younger sister and the rest of his family, his frustration at the lack of progress in finding the missing boy, his failure to communicate maturely with his former lover all play out during this novel and paint a far more realistic picture than the rather one-dimensional hero-figure of the first book. Although he turned out to have some very human foibles and some not very agreeable qualities I liked Simon a lot more in this book.
However The Pure in Heart isn’t all about Simon and the kidnapping. There is a detailed exploration of several people, including some who have nothing much to do with the case at all. There is a particularly gripping, if extraordinarily sad, depiction of the effect of David’s disappearance on his family which seemed so realistic I almost felt guilty for being such a voyeur into someone else’s tragedy. Simon’s family feature heavily again and there are other threads including fascinating one focusing on a man released from prison and struggling to live a ‘straight’ life.
Like Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise I’ve spent some time trying to work out why I enjoy these books because, on the face of it, they’re not ‘my kind of thing’ as they spend so much time focussing on people not relevant to the main story. But when I was mentally comparing The Pure in Heart to other books I’ve read I realised it was similar in intent to Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red but far better executed (and almost exactly half the length!). Whereas Careless in Red had oodles of irrelevant tangents and tried to give a cast of a couple of dozen characters interesting back stories, The Pure in Heart seemed to know just when enough was enough on both counts and drew an absorbing picture of the town and its people without once making me wish for it all to hurry up and be over.
If you want a book that rollicks along at a cracking pace I suggest you look elsewhere. And if you don’t like loose ends you might also want to skip this book. But if a tale that unfolds in intricate, captivating layers and provokes much thought about what you would do in the face of modern moral dilemmas sounds like your kind of thing then read The Pure in Heart. If you happen to enjoy audio books I heartily recommend this version narrated by Steven Pacey who is fast becoming one of my favourite narrators (he was responsible for one of my top ten reads of last year, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44).
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My rating 4/5
Narrator: Steven Pacey; Publisher: BBC WW ; ISBN: N/A (downloaded from audible); Length: 11hrs 37mins ; Setting: England, present-day
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