Here is yet another genre-transcending novel that’s something of a gothic mystery but really is neither gothic nor mystery: The Stranger House, by Reginald Hill. It helps, of course, that the protagonist this time is a mathematician — even better than being a Latin teacher, as the protagonist of The Lake of Dead Languages is. But Samantha Flood is not quite who she seems to be, and the story focuses on her search for her own identity, which ends up being deeply intertwingled with the search for self of another character, Miguel Ramos Elkington Madero. But Madero is not the antagonist; that role falls to the town of Illthwaite, where most of the action takes place.
As always happens in Hill’s novels, the reader learns a lot while being captivated and entertained. Looking to learn some new vocabulary? This novel doesn’t include quite as many words that require a dictionary as is usual in Hill’s works, but it still contains a few surprises — all used appropriately and not pretentiously, by the way. One Amazon reviewer cites recusancy, lucubration, scurfy, euphuistic, euhemeristically, and clart as unfamiliar words; I knew the first and fourth of these already, but I’m sure there were others in the book that I did not know, though it’s hard to keep a record of words while listening to an audiobook in the car. Also, quite a bit of the fascinating history of Catholicism in England and Spain works its way into the action, as does the appalling history of the British Child Migrants.
Another Amazon reviewer has this to say:
Hill makes ample use of flashbacks and foreshadowing to drop hints and clues, but the dizzying swirl of events begins to make sense only at the end of this lengthy novel. For the patient and careful reader who loves a literary challenge, The Stranger House provides rich rewards. It is a dryly humorous, suspenseful, engrossing, and ambitious tale of lust, greed, religious persecution, and murder.
Yes, indeed. All of that is true. Read it!