Feb 10, 2010: “Cold Hillside” is the story of Simon, a man dealing with the recent death of his brother Giles in a car accident. Simon goes to Giles’ house, once their childhood home, to remember his brother, wrap up his affairs, and to try to make sense of his death.
The story is told in first person and starts with Giles experiencing the car accident that kills him. The narration then switches to Simon being interviewed by a detective while reminiscing about this brother. He remembers incidents from their childhood on the downs near Dorset, an auction they went to, the moment when the phone call came, the funeral, and the visitors afterwards.
The pace of the first 73 pages is fairly slow. There’s lots of description and conversation but nothing much happens “in the present”. I enjoyed reading the stories as Simon remembered his brother because they fleshed out the two brothers and their relationship. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the places and the people. The time shifts in the writing were well-handled and it was always obvious when a “story” was done and Simon was back talking to the detective. The overall feeling was rather languid or numb, as it probably would be after the loss of a loved one. There is a definite sense of loss and being lost as Simon remembers his brother.
After that the story changes. The detective seems to be gone and things start happening that make Simon suspicious. Someone seems determined to make him leave Giles’ house. Simon remembers other incidents in his relationship with his brother that weren’t so innocent. I found the change to be rather abrupt. The writing seems to have changed to being “in the present”, and to being darker. Instead of sepia-toned memories we have hints that Giles was mixed up in something dangerous. The violence is jarring and the mystery seems out of place after the long lead-in. I gave up after 100 pages because I was missing the quiet Dorset countryside.
I’m not sure who to recommend “Cold Hillside” to. On the one hand, it’s well-written and the characters feel like real people. If you like character-driven stories about family relationships you’ll probably enjoy the beginning but the rest may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a mystery or thriller you may be disappointed. The mystery takes a long time to appear and the pace of the first 73 pages is too slow to be “thrilling”.
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