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The various haunts of men : a Simon…

The various haunts of men : a Simon Serrailler crime novel (original 2004; edition 2007)

by Susan Hill

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8646310,324 (3.69)195
Title:The various haunts of men : a Simon Serrailler crime novel
Authors:Susan Hill
Info:Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 2007.
Tags:fiction, mystery

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The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (2004)




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Where I got the book: audiobook on Audible.

I’d checked a couple of the Serailler books out of the library in the past, and have long been meaning to listen to the entire series. I loved Susan Hill’s creepy stories when I was younger.

This, of course, is Book 1, and what’s most interesting about it in my opinion is that we are introduced to Simon Serailler purely from the outside and that he’s seen in large part through the eyes of someone who’s only recently met him and who, to her great chagrin, has almost immediately fallen in love with him. That’s a pretty interesting device, as if Hill deliberately set out to call attention to the power a good fictional detective of the classic English type has over us. Serailler’s got all the hallmarks: he’s good at his job, he’s a loner, he’s got a sensitive, artistic side to the point where more than one of his colleagues think’s he’s gay. Sort of a cross between Adam Dalgleish and Lord Peter Wimsey, and in the same way this novel blends police procedural with Serailler’s family life, roping in a few friends and colleagues along the way. Of course he also has the aura of authority (a powerful aphrodisiac) and Hill seems to wave that in front of the reader’s face by having the woman who falls for him be one of his subordinates. I think I knew pretty early on how that particular plot line was going to end, although I ended up liking Freya and hoping it wouldn’t. And I think Hill meant me both to like her and to suspect what was going to happen.

One thing that distinguishes this first book is that we hear from the killer early on, building a picture of who he is psychologically long before we know who he is in fact. The plot centers around the theme of alternative medicine, very suitable since most of the Seraillers are doctors, and you get the distinct impression that Hill is on the side of orthodoxy so all in all by the time I was a little more than halfway through the book I knew where the killer was coming from.

The plotting of the book’s a little messy, for all that this is probably the most neatly structured of the Serailler books. Hill’s not a writer to reward you with a feeling of smug satisfaction; she seems to like to keep her readers a little on the uncomfortable side and is predictable in some places while throwing curve balls in others. These are good books for mystery readers who like to get involved with the characters as much as they want to see the unraveling of the mystery. Narrator Steven Pacey does a smooth, relaxed job, and is good at varying the accents without exaggerating them. ( )
1 vote JaneSteen | Jan 3, 2015 |
A haunting mystery and beautifully written, but the book's marketing leads to expectations which mar the actual experience. While considered to be the first of the Simon Serrailler series, Serrailler himself is a minor character here, and I wonder if the book was originally intended as a stand alone. Although the drama of this entry does contribute to later character development, don't expect to see or learn much about the series' main character. But do read it for the interesting mystery that it is. ( )
1 vote auntmarge64 | Nov 27, 2014 |
I found this book rather laboured.

The plot was fine but the novel moved at a turgid, almost glacial pace. That needn't be a negative characteristic if the author is offering us perfectly drawn characters and beautiful prose. In this instance, however, neither of those characteristics were on hand to rescue this book from being simply rather dull.

In fact, I can hardly summon the mental energy to attempt to say much more about it. Some people disappear and Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serailler investigates. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | Nov 25, 2014 |
These days, the book market is abhors anything that isn’t part of a series. So much of how a book is marketed now depends on whether it will make a good television series on BBC or a good trilogy of movies. Mystery writers have long given us the lives of their heroes in installments, reaching back into their lives to fill out the characters psyche, while finding new and interesting ways to torment them in their present. I’m not opposed to following a character through many books, especially well-rounded and complex ones. They become old friends after a time. But if you’re going to set out to write a series of books, hung on one character, then you had better swing for the fences the first time out. Susan Hill, with [The Various Haunts of Men], strikes out swinging.

[The Various Haunts of Men] was largely entertaining. It didn’t suffer until I realized I’d read nearly two-thirds of the book without learning anything substantive about Simon Serrailler, the Detective Chief Inspector who is meant to be the common thread in her series of books. In fact, I was sort of taken with the real main character of the book, Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham. She is tough, smart, and complex, right up to the moment that she meets DCI Serrailler for the first time. Then, she melts into absolute mush, unable to think straight or act appropriately. That’s when things come off the rails – they get back on the rails occasionally whenever DS Graffham isn’t pining away or biting her nails about Serrailler.

And, to misquote Moonstruck, what Hill don’t know about men is a lot. There are always complaints when a male writes shallow and hormonally charged women characters, but rarely the opposite. Hill barely give Serrailler enough time in the spotlight to even be a complete character. Oh sure, he is the eccentric artist/copper, running off to Italy and Spain to sketch the world. He returns to command a small-town police force and do battle with a bitter and angry father. He is big and strong and mysterious, though the mystery is fueled only by Hill’s lack of attention to the man. Come on, give him a Fabio, wind-swept coif and a torn uniform shirt. Mostly, Hill refers to Serrailler through the female characters as they lust and pine from a distance.

Then, we get to the psychopath. I admire authors like Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, and Sue Grafton, who write mysteries about everyday police work. Not every crime has a fully-formed psychopath lurking in the shadows. Not every crime is a series of sexually motivated murders. But Hill makes sure that this sleepy, tiny town has its own serial killer. If you can get past the sensationalism of it all, you find that he is not even a very good psychopath. He kills himself in the end, an extremely rare behavior for someone who is motivated only by narcissism and is largely devoid of human emotions of guilt and fear. Outside of that glaring mistake, though, Hill manages to hit all of the tired stereotypes to be had on Wikipedia about psychopaths.

So, why did I even rate this book as average. Well, for all of the faults, I really liked DS Graffham and the investigation she puts into the case – as long as she wasn’t thinking or talking about Serrailler. Really, the book should have been subtitled, ‘A DS Freya Graffham myster.’ She is really the only one involved in the investigation. Sadly, Graffham is killed in the end, by the psychopath – had they already started the BBC Masterpiece Mystery for this one at the time of publication?

Bottom Line: The debut to a series of books that firmly warned me off of reading the rest of the series – too much stereotypical romance and psychopathic nonsense. A good character wasted and killed off, one that could have been interesting to follow for a long time.

3 bones!!!!! ( )
3 vote blackdogbooks | Jun 29, 2014 |
First in a series. A mystery, with a whole cast of wonderful characters; women gone missing without a trace; a colony of "alternative" healers, legitimate and otherwise; a mysterious pathological "pathologist"; a small cathedral town with its own minor set of "stones" on the Hill.... It grabbed me and kept me reading much like the Tana French Dublin murder squad series, or the Jackson Brodie books. But Hill does French and Atkinson one better, in a gutsy way I can't reveal without spoiling the story. Billed as the first Simon Serrailler mystery, it's really more about one of his squad, Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham, from whose point of view much of the story is told. There are other POV's as well, but she comes across as the primary character here. Serrailler is quite a minor player, apart from the fact that Freya falls hard for him and struggles with what to do about that. I loved it. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Mar 30, 2014 |
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The Various Haunts of men
Require the pencil, they defy the pen.

~ George Crabbe, The Borough

My dearly loved Ghost
First words
"The Tape" Last week I found a letter from you. I didn't think I had kept any of them. I thought I had destroyed everything from you. But this one had somehow been overlooked.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099534983, Paperback)

A lonely woman of fifty-three vanishes in fog; a fat twenty-two-year-old never returns from an early morning walk . . .

Experienced policemen know that most missing persons either turn up or go missing on purpose. But fresh young D.S. Freya Graffham won’t drop it — until she discovers what links the people who disappear on “The Hill,” young and old, men and women, even a little dog. Susan Hill writes with compassion, humour and a unique understanding of the details of daily life.

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:55 -0400)

"A lonely woman of vanishes while out on her morning run. The police aren't alarmed. But when a 22-year-old girl never returns from a walk, an old man disappears too, no one can denied that something is happening in the quiet cathedral town of Lafferton. When fresh-faced policewoman Freya Graffham is assigned to the case, she must unravel the mystery before events turn too gruesome"--Back cover.… (more)

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