The Various Haunts of Men centers on a series of disappearances in the English town of Lafferton. The first to disappear is a spinster who leads a quiet, regimented life ... but leaves behind one out-of-character clue in her sterile, empty home. Although Freya Graffham -- the talented young policewoman assigned to investigate the case -- believes there is more to this disappearance than meets the eye, she is hard-pressed to convince her superiors that this is anything but a routine missing persons case. Then a troubled young woman disappears in the same area of Lafferton -- The Hill. Freya begins to search for connections between the two cases. Then a dog goes missing on the Hill. And an elderly woman seemingly disappears into thin air after attending a seance. Are these disappearances related? Is there a serial killer working in Lafferton? As Freya struggles to connect the dots and get the resources she needs to fully investigate these missing persons cases, she begins to have feelings for her enigmatic superior -- the handsome, talented heartbreaker Simon Serrailler. And as the layers of the mystery begin to unpeel like the layers of an onion, the reader is drawn deep into the lives of Lafferton residents -- and the evil living among them.
This is not your average, run of the mill mystery. It is beautifully written and all the characters -- including the town of Lafferton -- are fully developed. You live for a little bit inside the minds of each one of the victims as they move inevitably to their doom. You get a glimpse into the mind of the killer (a transcript of a confessional tape telling the killer's story is introduced in the very first chapter). You follow along with Freya as she tries to unravel the mystery, makes her adjustment to life in Lafferton, and tries to fight off her powerful attraction to Simon Serrailler. Although Simon himself remains distant and almost unknowable, you begin to learn about him and his family via his sister-- the town doctor Cat Deerborn, who is fighting her own battle against New Age health practitioners who are preying on the bereaved, depressed and sick of Lafferton.
Reading this book is like living in the town of Lafferton for a bit. You get a feel for the town and its residents. I found it amazing how effortlessly and seamlessly the author moved from one character to another. I never found these transitions confusing, and I enjoyed the story being told from various points of view. Now I must confess that I am never one of those people who can figure out who the murderer is early on, and I thought Hill did a good job of not revealing too much, too soon. And I was stunned at the ending -- not so much about the who as how she chose to deal with the fates of several of the characters.
This is the first book in a series of Simon Serrailler mysteries, and quite an introduction it is! I'll definitely be reading the rest of this series, and I'm interested to see how the character of Simon is further developed -- as well as what else happens to the residents of Lafferton I've come to know and love.
If you are a fan of well-written and intelligent murder mysteries, this book is a must for you. Although Susan Hill has written several other novels, non-fiction books and children's books, The Various Haunts of Men was her first venture into mystery and crime writing. The blurbs on the book compare this book to the works of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James, so if you are a fan of their books, you will probably like this series as well. Although I'm not a die-hard fan of mysteries, I really enjoyed this book and plan to continue reading this series. Bottom line is that this is a well-written, fully developed and carefully plotted mystery from a writer who really knows how to write. Worth checking out!
An Excerpt from the Book
"No one sees anything unusual out on the Hill. People walk, run, ride there but find nothing, report nothing to alarm them. It is just the same as always, with its standing stones and crown of trees, yielding no secrets. Vehicles keep to the paved paths, and in any case it has rained; any type of tyre marks have been washed away."
I just discovered this British mystery series featuring detective Simon Serrailler. This is the first in the series and it is a satisfying, big fat door-stopper of a mystery. The novel is told from multiple points of view - quite a lot of them in fact, which means you don't get to know all of the characters as well as you might like to. I saw part of the ending coming a few chapters out, but there was still one shocking plot development that I totally did not expect. Overall I really enjoyed it and will try to track down the rest of the series. If you like Elizabeth George's novels, you might enjoy this series.
First Line: Last week I found a letter from you.
Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham has left London and the Metropolitan Police for the small cathedral town of Lafferton. She doesn't miss London a bit and wastes no time in exploring her new home. She fits in well with her fellow officers and is intrigued by Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler. Graffham is a very intuitive person, and there's something about a missing persons case involving an older woman named Angela Randall that she just can't let go. When other people in the area begin to go missing, Graffham senses she really is on to something. Is there a killer preying on the people of this small town?
The Various Haunts of Men moves very slowly and deliberately until the last hundred pages when it really picks up speed. The pacing almost mirrors that of the killer. I knew the killer's identity very early on, but as only a secondary matter of importance, it didn't ruin the book for me at all. Hill's focus was squarely on her characters and setting her stage for the other books to follow in the series.
I try my best to avoid spoilers in my reviews, so I must limit my remarks with regard to this book. Hill's characters were brilliant-- perfect for a character-driven reader like me-- but the weakest of the lot was Simon Serrailler himself. Everyone seemed to put him on such a high pedestal that it's a wonder he didn't get a nosebleed, and he was so enigmatic that it was almost impossible to "read"or like him. I'm tempted to say that I wasn't all that impressed with him, but I have a strong feeling that I was set up by Hill, so I'm reserving judgment until I've read the next book in the series.
Read it (The Pure in Heart) I will because Hill has populated her stage with one of the more intriguing casts of characters I've encountered in a long time. She also has shown right from this beginning that she's quite willing to take risks with them. I definitely want to see what she does next.
This is one of the better mysteries I've read in quite a while. Susan Hill (whose Woman In Black I thoroughly enjoyed) again shows herself to be an excellent prose stylist. She is an author who can spin such an absorbing story--moody, atmospheric, often ambiguous--that it really doesn't matter if I figure out the guilty party fairly early in the book. But it's the remarkable characters that bring everything to life: attractive but almost unfathomable Simon; lively, competent Freya; charming and perceptive Nathan. What she does with these people, what she says (and doesn't say) about them, makes this a series I'll almost certainly continue with, and Hill an author I'll look for again.
I read Jennifer P. (jenners)'s review first, before reading this book. Her review is dead on. What you need to decide is this the kind of book you like to read. It is a mystery, that never intended to be a cozy, it doesnt even fit that genre. But it was graphic or gruesome or scary. No sex either. It was mysterious and it kept you guessing as it built up tension, and added more clues to the identity of the murderer. It also was a great book because the victims are people you get to know and admire so their deaths are more real to you. This book is a first in the Simon Serrailler series, but he was a secondary character most the time. Freya Graffham was the main character. I cant wait to read book two and see what Si Serrailler does next. He is one brother of triplets, His sister Cat is a Dr. and is main character who should be in book 2 as well. I am sure all the rest of the town and his family will return in book two.
This book was recommended to me by a fellow swapper as the first in a terrific British police procedural series. I read quite a number of British police procedural series, and I would not place this one anywhere near the top of that list. I found the book overlong, the characters not quite so interesting, and the "crime" story and details very drawn out. Nevertheless, because of Hill's reputation and the glowing reviews her books get, I've started the second in the series last night.
Read winter of 2010. It's a quiet book set in a small cathedral town in England. It took me a few chapters to understand the slow pacing of the book, but the characters draw you into their world as the mystery intensifies. This is one of my favorite books I read in 2010.
This was a great mystery. I enjoyed the characters and the story's development. Definately a good quick read. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.
Excellent crime drama by an English author. I hope to read more in this series.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get into this one. But see for yourself, maybe you'll like it more than me.
Hill writes well, and her ghost story The Woman in Black is a favorite. Although this is well written, too, and interesting, it's fine as a story set in an English town, but if you're looking for a straight-forward mystery, this might not be for you either. It's 562 pages long, by the way, so not for the impatient.