Title: The Various Haunts of Men
Author: Susan Hill
Published By: The Overlook Press, 2004
Book Specs: 438 pages
Book Category: Fiction, Mystery
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.