‘The Various Haunts of Men’ by Susan Hill is the first book in the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels. A series of mysterious disappearances on the Hill near the small cathedral town of Lafferton catches the attention of Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham. A middle-aged woman, a man, a young girl and a dog have all gone missing at the same spot. But what exactly happened to them all and why?
‘The Various Haunts of Men’ is an old-fashioned sort of detective story with a chilling plot which unravels slowly. Hill has a particular talent for creating suspense, atmosphere and tension, most famously in ‘The Woman in Black’ and her other ghost stories. She also uses this to good effect here, particularly when the different characters and the crimes are being introduced in the opening chapters.
I think ‘The Various Haunts of Men’ would seem quite under-developed if it is read as a stand-alone book. I got the feeling that there is a lot more character development to come later in the rest of the series. Most notably, I was quite surprised that Simon Serrailler himself wasn’t really the driving force in this novel especially given that the series of books is meant to be about him. In this particular story, it is actually his colleague Freya Graffham who is more involved in handling the case. I thought Freya’s crush on Simon was a bit annoying and unnecessary but otherwise, the story was very well written and structured.
‘The Various Haunts of Men’ is an enjoyable and atmospheric crime story which had been compared with the novels of Ruth Rendell and P. D. James. Although the solution to the mystery was perhaps not the biggest surprise in the world, the events at the end of the story set the scene up nicely for the next book in the series, ‘The Pure in Heart’, which I will be reading sometime next year. Hopefully, Simon Serrailler himself will have more of a presence in his next case.