Title: The Various Haunts of Men (the first Simon Serrailler novel)
Author: Susan Hill
Publisher: Vintage 
Length: 549 pages
Setting: The fictional village of Lafferton, Southern England, present-day
Genre: Psychological suspense
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My rating: 4/5
One-liner: An utterly beautiful depiction of a town and its people, one of whom happens to be a killer.
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Freya Graffham has left her job with The Met in London for a quieter life as a Detective Sergeant in the Cathedral town of Lafferton in southern England. As she’s settling into her new job and new life she learns of a woman, Angela Randall, who has been reported missing by her employer. With little to go on but a gut feeling Freya is unable to continue working on the case until a second woman is reported missing. We readers know that something untoward is happening to the women because of a series of communications from the culprit to an un-named person but Freya isn’t privy to these missives and must pursue the investigation with frustratingly little to go on.
I should not have liked this book. It’s a brick of a thing, it really isn’t terribly suspenseful (although the last 100 or so pages are quite gripping) and meeting the purported main character was an entirely unsatisfactory experience. All of these factors should have put the book on my ‘don’t bother’ list. However, its redemption lies in the beauty of its depiction of the fictional town of Lafferton and its inhabitants. Hill paints a detailed and engaging picture of the town with doctors who still make house calls, an uplifting choir and an uneasiness for the new-age ‘healers’ of all sorts who are moving into the area. Layered atop this are a wonderful selection of people including those who will become the victims of the killer. By the time each of them becomes a victim I felt I knew them quite intimately and cared rather deeply about their demise in a way that I often don’t in a standard police procedural in which I’ve only learned about the victim after their death.
Aside from these victims there are a swag of other characters who are wonderfully drawn. I had much the same thoughts as Cathy with regard to the central character of the book in that the high esteem that everyone had for DCI Simon Serrailler didn’t seem terribly warranted based on what we saw of him. However I adored members of his family, primarily his mother and his triplet sister Cat, and look forward to spending more time with them in the future. Freya Graffham, whose annoyance at falling in love with her DCI is wonderfully portrayed, is also great character as is the DS that she co-opts for her missing person investigation. Even the minor players, like Sandy who is the flatmate of one of the missing women, are depicted in so much detail that I felt as if I would recognise them all should I happen to meet them.
Several reviews of this book make mention of the numerous loose ends remaining at the end of The Various Haunts of Men and I agree there are a swag of them. I tend not to mind loose ends as I find them more realistic than having everything wrapped up neatly but I can understand others’ frustration with them. However, I’ve already imagined what’s happened to resolve most of the loose ends and, at least until I read the next book in this series, I’ll just assume I’ve gotten it all right.
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The Various Haunts of Men has been reviewed positively at Mack Captures Crime and Kittling Books and not quite so positively at Shelf Love. Although I disagreed with Jenny’s opinion about the book I thought she made some good points in her review but I just happened to like the things she didn’t.