The Stranger House

Samantha Flood and Miguel Madero are two travelers who have little in common besides mysterious links to the village of Illthwaite in Cumbria. In fact, both arrive there the same day in search of information about their families. The village is weighed down by its sad and bloody history, some of it involving the ancestors of the young visitors. The layered story traces hatreds and violence back through generations, as the two try to find out who their own foreparents were and what happened to them.

The sections of The Stranger House are introduced by passages from the Poetic and Prose Eddas, collections of early poems of Iceland and Norway which are characterized by grim fatalism. Characters in the novel have similarities to people in Norse myth. Miguel or “Mig” has a kind of second sight. Samantha or “Sam” has only her intuition. Together they work to overcome generations of treachery and secrets to bring past sins into the light, so as to free themselves and others.

With the hints of the supernatural and the simple, direct narrative, this book is not typical of Reginald Hill. But The Stranger House, laden with history, is a very satisfying novel. Its complicated analysis of the mystery of identity adds depth to its exploration of the individual lives involved. Its sudden leaps into the past tease rather than confuse. The Cumbrian background is persuasive, and in fact the setting permeates the narrative to produce an effect of fatality. Not only fans of Dalziel and Pascoe will appreciate this book, but also readers of literary novels.