I finished Reginald Hill’s The Stranger House about a week ago but haven’t been able to write an even vaguely coherent review of it. Not because it’s not good but because I couldn’t think of anything new to say about how much I like and admire Hill’s writing and approach to the telling of stories. I’ve reviewed three of his books here (A Cure For All Diseases, Midnight Fugue and The Woodcutter) and on looking back I’ve been fairly repetitive in my gushing praise. I simply couldn’t think of a different way to say that I love the way this man tells a story.
The Stranger House is a standalone novel set in a remote Cumbrian village and tells the tale of two travellers, their ancestors and the village that ties them all together. A young Australian mathematician called Samantha (Sam) Flood goes to Illthwaite looking for information about her biological grandmother who she believes might have lived there before moving to Australia and adopting out the baby that was to become Sam’s father. Miguel (Mig) Midero is a Spanish man with an English mother who was studying to be a priest before ceasing his studies and embarking on a quest to uncover the details of his ancestor who was last heard of when setting sail with the Spanish armada in the 1580’s. Both Sam and Mig’s searches uncover dark secrets, recent and ancient, about the village and its families in a book that is epic in scope and somewhat gothic in feel. Above all it’s a marvellous story full of the larger than life characters, wit and intelligence that I’ve come to expect from Hill. I think the thing I admire most is that he never seemed to be ‘phoning it in’. He was trying new things, taking risks, having fun with writing styles and genre conventions right to the end. The Woodcutter (published in 2010 when Hill was 73) is simply a perfect example of the art of storytelling.
If you’d asked I probably wouldn’t have called myself a die hard fan of Hilll’s because I don’t think I’ve read even half of his books and I haven’t liked all of the ones I have read. But two of the three books mentioned above appeared in my top ten books for the year I read them and the last one missed out by only the slimmest of margins. There isn’t another author who has appeared so consistently in my lists of favourite books. So it kind of snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking but it turns out I am a real fan of Reginald Hill which probably explains why waking to the news of his death this morning made me very sad. I will however be forever grateful for the hours of escape, entertainment and joy that he has provided, and I will take comfort knowing there are some of his books I’ve yet to read.
RIP Reginald Hill, and thank you.