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Posts Tagged ‘small town England’

THE VARIOUS HAUNTS OF MEN by Susan Hill: Book Review

It’s very exciting when you come upon an enjoyable series strictly by accident. Now that I’ve read the first in Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler mysteries, I plan to read the others as quickly as possible.*

Although this novel is billed as a Simon Serrailler mystery, the English Detective Chief Inspector plays a rather peripheral part.  The novel actually revolves around several other characters, all living in the small English cathedral town of Lafferton.  I do so love British expressions–when would you ever hear an American town or city referred to as a cathedral/temple/ church/mosque/synagogue town?

A number of chapters are written in the first person by the killer.  Other chapters are told from the third-person points of view of Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham, new to the Lafferton police force and coming off an unhappy marriage in London; Catherine Serrailler Deerbon, general practitioner and sister of the Detective Chief Inspector; three women who become victims of the serial killer; and various other members of the town.  As many characters as there are in The Various Haunts of Men, you never lose track of who is who; Susan Hill has an outstanding ability to bring each character to life.

Angela Randall is a middle-aged woman, never married, who works in a facility for elderly people with dementia.  She goes for a run early one morning after completing her tour of duty, and she never returns.  Victim number one.

Debbie Parker is a young woman, unemployed, overweight, and depressed.  She goes for a walk early one morning and never returns.  Victim number two.

And there are others.

The town of Lafferton is small and very close knit.  It’s a refuge for DS Graffham, who eagerly joins the local choir and begins to make friends.  She’s enjoying her new life, until she meets her supervisor who had been on vacation when she was posted there.  Simon Serrailler takes her breath away, and despite herself she falls instantly, and seemingly hopelessly, in love.  She’s warned by a fellow chorister as well as by Catherine, Simon’s sister, that he has left a trail of broken hearts behind him, but Freya is unable to control her thoughts about him.

The plot is a tense one, with things moving swiftly. The characters, as I’ve said, are sharply delineated.  The only false note, I thought, was the instant emotional reaction Freya had to Serrailler; I guess I’m not really a believer in love at first sight, particularly on the part of a professional woman fresh from a disastrous marriage.  But this is truly nit-picking, since Serrailler’s charm and personality are obviously meant to be irresistible.

In a way, he reminded me of a much more modern Sir Peter Whimsey, a man of distinguished background and many talents, who chooses to pursue a career that is slightly “off” what would be expected from one of his class.  In fact, one of the interesting side issues is the estrangement between the Detective Chief Inspector and his father, a man who can’t understand why his son chose to ignore the three generations of physicians in the family and became a policeman instead.

*And I did just that.  One of the things I liked best about this book is the backstory.  I wrote in my About Marilyn post of March 9 how much more enjoyable I find books/series when I know more about the character and how he/she developed.  I said in that post that it’s more important to me when it’s a female character, but now I don’t know if I can stand by that statement.   In the past month, since I wrote the post you’re now reading, I’ve read three more novels in this series.  Each one gave me a deeper insight into Simon Serrailler and his family, and I’ve enjoyed the series more because of it.

The Various Haunts of Men is a compelling mystery with a shocking ending.  Now that I’ve read the three novels that follow it, I can hardly wait to read the fifth book in the series.

You can read more about Susan Hill at her web site.