The Stranger Houseby Reginald Hill
The tiny village of Illthwaite in Cumbria, England, seems to be the kind of place where nothing much has happened for the last few
In The Stranger House, Reginald Hill takes a break from his Dalziel and Pascoe series, and delivers a stunning stand-alone novel full of suspense, romance, history, and an exploration of the sometimes twisted side of the human psyche.
The tiny village of Illthwaite in Cumbria, England, seems to be the kind of place where nothing much has happened for the last few centuries. But the two young strangers who arrive there on the same dank autumn day soon find out that appearances are deceptive.
Samantha Flood and Miguel Madero have absolutely nothing in common -- except a burning desire to find out more about possible connections between Illthwaite and their families. Their way forward is beset by deceit, obstruction, mystery, violence, and love as they struggle to discover who they really are.
A cast of finely drawn characters, a powerful sense of landscape, a complex and multilayered story, and an explosive climax all combine to make this a novel difficult to put down, impossible to forget.
Not only is Reginald Hill's The Stranger House an impossible-to-categorize novel, being equal parts mystery, psychological thriller, supernatural horror, and historical fiction. This story, about two strangers looking for answers in a remote northern English village, is also impossible to put down.
Samantha "Sam" Flood is a young Australian seeking clues to her past. Her grandmother came from England under horrific conditions (an orphan, she became pregnant at 12 and died shortly after giving birth to Sam's father), but the circumstances of her journey have been lost in time. During her search, Sam meets Miguel Madero, a Spanish scholar doing research on English Catholics during the Reformation. Their investigations lead them to the Stranger House, an old hostelry located in the secluded village of Illthwaite ("an ill name for an ill place"), an area steeped in legends, superstitions, and deeply buried secrets. The two outsiders' inquiries lead them into dangerous territory as they begin to uncover a gruesome story of perversion, betrayal, and murder. "The door to the past opens north," one local cryptically warns. "The devil lives there."
Although a dramatic departure from Hill's award-winning Dalziel and Pascoe Yorkshire Police saga (Good Morning, Midnight; Death's Jest-Book; Dialogues of the Dead; et al.), The Stranger House is still very much a classic Reginald Hill work. Featuring intensely opinionated and brilliantly multi-layered characters, unfathomably deep plotlines, and Hill's biting wit, this dark exploration into the dust-covered skeletons of a village's shadowy past is utterly readable. Paul Goat Allen
—Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
“Hill’s novels are really dances to the music of time, his heroes and villains interconnecting, their stories entwining.”
- HarperCollins Publishers
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The Stranger House
By Reginald Hill
Random HouseReginald Hill
All right reserved.
Chapter 1: My people
On July 8th, 1992, a small girl woke up in her bed in her family house in the Australian state of Victoria and knew exactly who she was.
Samantha Flood, known to her friends as Sam and her family as Sammy, only child of Sam and Louisa Flood, granddaughter of Vince and Ada Flood, who between them had turned a patch of scrubby farmland on the fringe of the Goulburn Valley into the Vinada Winery which by the end of the eighties was winning golden opinions and medals to match at wine shows up to and including the Royal National Capital.
That morning Sam also knew two new things.
Today she was eleven years old and she was bleeding.
The bleeding was a shock. Not because Sam didn't know what it was. Her ma had explained it all years back, and she'd been taught stuff at school, and the lesson had been complete when her best friend, Martie Hopkins, started not long after she turned ten.
Ten was early. Martie was proud of being the first in their class, just like she was proud of the rest that came early too, the boobs and the bush. Sam was a skinny little thing, not just flat but practically concave. Martie, complacent in her new roundness, once joked in the school showers that you could serve soup on Sam's chest. Sam retorted that at least she wasn't a fat-arse, but secretly she envied Martie. They were always competing for top of the class and neither cared to see the other ahead in anything.
So the bleeding wasn't altogether unwelcome, but on her birthday it seemed lousy timing.
She called to her mother, who came into the bedroom and soon put things right, both inside and out. Lu Flood had a great talent for putting things right. As she sorted her daughter out, she remarked that some of my people reckoned it was lucky to start on your birthday. Lu had worked out she was one-seventh Aboriginal and there weren't many situations she hadn't got a bit of my people wisdom for. Her husband just grinned and said she made most of it up, while Sam, who loved playing around with numbers, worked out you couldn't be one-seventh something anyway, you had to be half or a quarter or an eighth, because everyone had two parents and four grandparents and so on.
It made no difference to Lu. One-seventh she was, which was a good proportion, seven being a lucky number, and Sam was one-fourteenth, which was twice as lucky.
Maths apart, Sam quite liked all this weird stuff her mother spouted about my people. It made her feel connected with that great emptiness outside her bedroom window. And if it got scary, which it did sometimes, the one-seventh (or one-fourteenth) weirdness was more than balanced by the comfort able certainties she got from her father's side of the family.
She used to stagger to Gramma Ada with her great heavy leather-bound photo album and ask to be told about the folk whose faces stared out at her. She liked it best when they got to the old sepia photos where the men had beards or heavy moustaches and the women wore long dresses and everyone looked like they'd been shot and taken to a taxidermist. Gramma knew all their names, all their stories.
With history like this, Sam knew for certain who she was, so it didn't matter when Ma's stories got a bit frightening, there was nothing in them that those old sepia men with their big moustaches and unblinking stares couldn't deal with.
That morning as Lu cleaned Sam up, she recalled that up north where my people came from, when a girl started bleeding, she had to live by herself for a month or so, lying face-down in a hut so she couldn't see the sun, because if she did, her nose would go rotten.
"So there you are, Sam," she said when she'd finished. "Your choice. You can either head out to the old brewhouse and lie flat for a few weeks, or you can take your chances, come downstairs and open your prezzies."
So, no choice. And no change except that Sam was eleven and on a level with Martie.
She had a great day, ate as much chocolate as she liked, which was a hell of a lot, and got to stay up late, watching the telly.
There was only one thing to watch, which was a play everyone had been talking about called The Leaving of Liverpool. Sam would have preferred something that had promise of a bit more life in it, but her mother and Gramma Ada wanted to see the play, so that's what they settled down to. Except for her pa. He said he had to check some new vines. If it wasn't cricket or Aussie footie, Pa didn't give a toss for television.
The play (as Sam explained it later to her friends) was about a bunch of English kids who got sent to Australia because they were orphans or at least their parents didn't want them and there was some scheme here to look after them and see they got a proper education. Except it didn't work out like that. They got treated rotten. Worse than rotten in some cases. They got treated like slaves.
It was late when Sam went up to bed but she couldn't sleep. She lay there thinking about the play, and it all got mixed up with the bleeding somehow, and for the first time ever she had a sense of herself as something separate from her context.
Up till now she'd been Samantha Flood who lived with her ma and her gramma at the winery run by her pa and they all loved her. She went to school, she had a lot of friends, she wasn't all that pretty but everyone said she had the loveliest red hair they'd ever seen. And she was really bright, particularly at sums. There was no place further away than Melbourne, no time longer than the months between now and Christmas, nothing sadder in recent years than the death of her kitten, Tommo, who got run over by one of the big drays, and nothing surer than that if anyone was going to live happy ever after with nothing much changing, that person was little Sam Flood.
That was Sam on the inside looking out. That night, the night of her eleventh birthday, for the very first time she found herself on the outside looking in.
Excerpted from The Stranger House by Reginald Hill
Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Reginald Hill has received Britain’s most coveted mystery writing award, the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, as well as the Golden Dagger, for his Dalziel and Pascoe series. He lives in Cumbria, England.
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A big fan of books with lots of twists along the way, I really enjoyed this book. The best part of this book was the very end, because the sharpest twist appeared right at the end!
When I started, I thought 'I'll never like these characters'- Sam was too coarse, Mig too ethereal. But I ended up loving them both as their complexities were revealed. Setting, secondary characters, and especially plot were rich and compelling. The fact that the ending was hopeful, but not trite was a satisfying bonus. I loved the book!
You quickly invest in the characters of Mig and Sam. The supporting cast of villagers are wonderful, diverese, and interesting. This is a well rounded book with a unique story with touches of history and mystery. Ulitmatly it is about the characters and their need to discover their past, which enables them to go forward with their future.
The two strangers separately arrive at remote Illthwaite, England seeking information about their respective families. Math graduate student Australian Samantha ¿Sam¿ wants to learn more about her grandmother especially why she was exiled from here over forty years ago. Historian Miguel ¿Mig¿ Madero wants to obtain more information about an ancestor who sailed with the Spanish Armada in 1588 and may have landed here. --- They both stay at THE STRANGER HOUSE where they meet and initially detest one another. However, though they seem like total opposites with her being a mathematical creature of logic while he is more of the spiritual compassionate historian, they soon find a common cause. Each wants to know the truth, which both feels will turn upside down what has been the explanation of what occurred to their respective relatives. Of course the villagers have much to hide and prefer the truth remain buried in the past. --- Reginald Hill, taking a sabbatical from Dalziel and Pascoe, provides a deep thought-provoking thriller that grips the audience from the moment we enter THE STRANGER HOUSE and never let¿s go even after the tale is finished. Readers will ponder how much of what is recorded as truth really happened the way it is described in the history books as facades often hide what the victors want concealed. Interestingly as ¿intelligent design¿ theory (can that mean Buddhism or Hinduism?) is pushed Mr. Hill provides a similar debate but on a personal level as the mathematician and the historian argue over what reality is. This great novel makes the case that history requires open-mindedness unlike math because new myths form and debunk acceptable facts rather quickly --- Harriet Klausner
I know that some people review this title as being dull, but obviously they are used toStephen King and Dean Koontz; instant horror gratification. This is English supernatural at its best, where the background is woven into the present due to its importance innot just figuring out the 'ghosts.' But also infiguring out all the intrigue and twists that the events that occured in the past had on the future. This story was a great read, especially for the summer. Judge it for yourself.
I've read over 200 pages and this is a boring book. Too much ancient history and things that have nothing to do with anything....yet. Am really struggling to get through this book and almost ready to just quit.
Just too much extraneous information that I find BORING. In future I will stick to the Dalziel-Pascoe books.