Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill Sinclair-Stevenson $220 DAPHNE du Maurier's 1938 novel is not what is commonly classed ''literature''. But it is a classic of its kind: overblown, melodramatic, brooding and almost camp in its use of purple prose. Ms Hill, selected by the du Maurier estate, seems an ideal choice to carry on the story in this sequel. Her own tales are slightly old-fashioned, quirky and full of suspense, and the lack of a distinctive Hill style gives her the chameleon-like ability to conjure up that of her predecessor. It is a job she undertakes with diligence. Rebecca dealt with the second marriage of Maxim de Winter, a man who was emotionally cold, insensitive, perhaps a little mad - and his first wife's murderer. His new bride was a mousy, nameless creature. But their lack of colour hardly mattered as the novel was dominated by the first Mrs de Winter, the brilliant, beautiful, bad Rebecca and Manderley, the family estate. Ms Hill has not inherited the easiest pack of characters. In terms of compassion and sympathy this lot score fairly low and she has chosen not to develop them much either. In the 10 years since the final, dramatic, purging fire that swept through the halls of Manderley, Mr and Mrs de Winter have been in exile in Europe fleeing the imaginary witnesses that haunt Maxim. There is a long list of conversational taboos and Mrs de Winter - still in the drab beige-and-tweeds of the Manderley era - pussyfoots round her husband, compliant and eager to please. It is a sterile marriage in anyone's book but just in case you miss the point there are no offspring and Mrs de Winter sits in cafes eyeing European bambinos and studiously avoiding bringing up the subject. The taciturn travelling companion and rootless existence all adds up to a lot of introspection. If eternal ruminations in the first person singular are not to your fancy, this probably is not the book for you. The sequel opens at the funeral of Maxim's sister Beatrice. But poor Beatrice, in her pale oak coffin, must play second fiddle to the glories of the English countryside which have captivated the attention of her sister-in-law. It is autumn, a glorious English October, all lemons and golds and trees and hedges and shrubs and newly-furrowed fields. But there are also swirls of crows circling above the mourners, like the fears and memories haunting Maxim since he murdered his wife. However, now Mrs de Winter is back on English soil she is smitten with being home. She persuades Maxim to take a trip up to Scotland before returning to foreign shores. It is on the way back that she spies the perfect house and dreams of ownership. After treating her so badly (plain looks, dreadful husband, banished abroad) Fate hands her the home and she and Maxim return to England. All it would take is the tiny patter of little feet on those great stairways and happiness would be complete. Instead, of course, her dream is about to be smashed. And who better to wield the psychological axe than Mrs Danvers the housekeeper and one of literature's best incarnations of evil. It is odd that Ms Hill chooses not to play this trump card until the second half of the book. Sinister, cruel, sexually ambivalent, Mrs Danvers is as loyal as she ever was to the memory of Rebecca. Less credibly - did none of the cosmopolitan live-and-let-live attitude rub off on her after 10 years of wandering? - Mrs de Winter is as much in the power of Mrs Danvers as ever. There will be readers who want to shake Mrs de Winter for being so spineless and lacking in gumption. There will also be those who deplore the less-than-inspired storyline and lack of maturity in the characters. But by its slavish devotion to the original author, this sequel does manage to recapture the tones, undercurrents and atmospheres so brilliantly evoked by du Maurier.