The Barnes & Noble Review
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
Fans of the witty Dalziel/Pascoe police procedurals (Good Morning, Midnight, etc.) by Diamond Dagger-winner Hill may be nonplussed by this stand-alone, a mix of historical mystery, gothic romance, ghost story and tutorial on religion and Norse mythology. Samantha "Sam" Flood, an Australian mathematics whiz, visits the isolated British village of Illthwaite before attending graduate school at Cambridge, hoping to discover the origins of her grandmother who emigrated from the place as a child. Miguel "Mig" Madero, a former novice priest now a history scholar, seeks the link between an ancestor who disappeared during the Spanish Armada defeat and a Catholic Illthwaite family. The villagers, quirky and devious, seem to know more than they'll reveal. Sam and Mig, initially antagonistic, join forces when their quests intersect. Spanning four centuries and related by several narrators, who slowly clarify the mystery, the book is too long and repetitive and seasoned with wild coincidences. Still, the engrossing historical background, especially Elizabeth I's campaign to eliminate English Catholicism, more than compensates. Agent, Caradoc King at A.P. Watt (U.K.). (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This standalone novel by award-winning suspense writer Hill (Good Morning, Midnight) features two characters with little in common but for their families being in the wine business. Samantha Flood is a 20-year-old Australian math genius, while Miguel Madero lives in Jerez, Spain, with a Spanish father and an English mother. After the death of her grandmother, Samantha learns that her father was adopted and comes to England seeking information about his birth mother. Miguel, who experienced a mystical calling to the priesthood but left the seminary to pursue an academic career in history, is in search of information about Catholic priests during the reign of Elizabeth I. Both find themselves drawn to the Cumbrian village of Illthwaite, and both meet resistance from the locals when they arrive and begin asking questions. As their quests become intertwined, Samantha and Miguel at last join forces. Filled with suspense, history, and wry humor, this is a treat of a novel about two people who are driven to uncover the truth about their families and unexpectedly find allies in each other.-Beth Lindsay, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Suspense master Hill (Good Morning, Midnight, 2004, etc.) brings together a young Australian woman seeking her true parentage and a Spanish priest manque in one creepy Cumbrian town. Hailing from these strange Northern English parts, Hill knows the area well and hinges his story on several unpleasant bits of national history given imaginary local developments. The forced emigration of English orphans, for example: Samantha (Sam) Flood, a young Australian mathematics student at Cambridge, learns that her grandmother was probably pregnant at 12 years of age, in 1960, when she was shipped out from the town of Illthwaite ("an ill name for an ill place" says a disenchanted transplant). Brash, outspoken Sam appears in the village to check things out. No one in Illthwaite will talk to her at first, yet she gradually learns through reluctant confessions by descendants of the families concerned that her gran was raped by local boys, then hustled out of town. At the same time, seminarian Miguel (Mig) Madero, son of a Cadiz winegrower, arrives in town in search of material that he can incorporate into his doctoral dissertation. Mig has chosen the priesthood because of his spiritual visions, which involve stigmata and deep-seated memories. His visions are grounded in Illthwaite history. Mig unearths written testimonies about the horrible fate of a certain Spanish boy, his namesake, shipwrecked during the ill-fated Armada in 1588 and then enslaved by the nasty Gowder family. When discovered in flagrante with lonely wife Jenny Gowder, Miguel was crucified and left to die. (Jenny secretly cut him down.) There's plenty of bad stuff still going on in this secretive village, but the dark climax isattractively mitigated by the growing warmth between recalcitrant Sam and sensitive virgin Mig, who recognizes that he's not cut out for the priesthood after all. Winning, spontaneous and blood-real characters triumph over a far-fetched plot.
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“Hill is one of the masters of the genre.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Hill is one of the masters of the genre.”
Booklist (starred review)
“A stellar stand-alone packed with compelling characters, provocative plot twists, and a potent sense of place.”
“Hill...captures his characters’ contrasting viewpoints brilliantly.”
From the Publisher
“The Stranger House…is done superbly, with Hill’s usual panache…a delight.”
—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.”
"A stellar stand-alone packed with compelling characters, provocative plot twists, and a potent sense of place."
Read an Excerpt
The Stranger House
By Reginald Hill
Random House Reginald 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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