Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill.

The Overlook Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-59020-027-8. 438 pages.

Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham has transferred to Lafferton from London. Some might think it a step backwards in her career but Freya is looking to get back to basics, find herself after a disastrous marriage. She loves Lafferton, begins making friends, joins the choir. She is also a good listener and empathic while at the same time a tough and solid police officer. The loyal Detective Constable Nathan Coates thinks of her as his Sarge though she has been in Lafferton only a few weeks and backs her up in investigations.

She is on duty when the manager of a nursing home reports that an employee is missing. She and Coates investigate and find enough to be suspicious of the circumstances. Coates starts working records looking at past disappearances with similarities. Unfortunately they can't make a strong enough case for a full investigation and are told to put it aside. When more people disappear the dreaded phrase "serial killer" comes to the fore in people's minds.

The detectives try to find links among the possible victims who differ in age and sex. They also find themselves looking into the alternative medicine business in a nearby town.

I don't remember what put this book in my mind though I must have read about it on a book review blog and I'm always on the lookout for a new series. The cover tells us that this is a Simon Serrailler mystery. Hill has published other novels but this is her first crime novel.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is labeled a Simon Serrailler mystery but Serrailler is a peripheral character in the police work. In fact, there isn't a lot of police work involved and the conclusion seems almost accidental.

That said, I did enjoy the book but my enjoyment was incidental to the mystery. What Hill does well is build a picture of Lafferton and its people. At one point Freya thinks
Middle England, traditional values. Don't knock it, don't ever knock it, she thought. This is what we have come from, at bottom, this is what we are, and this is absolutely what we are, Nathan and I, are here to cherish and to protect.

This is what Hill is establishing in this story. She is creating the kind of England that Freya wants and needs. A place she can feel grounded.

We don't see much of Serrailler the police officer but we get a lot of Serrailler's relationship to his family (mother, twin sister, father) and learn how Simon is the black sheep for not going into medicine like the others. All of the characters studies, Serrailler's family, the victims, other townspeople, are written in a literary, sympathetic, and often moving style.

I haven't read other books in this series but I'm looking at The Various Haunts of Men as background to the novels that follow.

The following links give both positive and nengative reviews.

Mysteries in Paradise
Jandy's Reading Room
Shelf Love
The Guardian