Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

Susan Hill is best known in this country as the author of The Woman in Black, which was made into a movie starring Dan Radcliffe.  But in the U.K., she's known as a prolific and prizewinning author whose works include literary, Gothic,and mysteries.  The Various Haunts of Men is the first in her Simon Serrailler mystery series.

In the English town of Lafferton, people are disappearing.  A middle aged woman vanishes on her morning run, a young woman fails to return from a walk.  At first, the police are not alarmed - people go missing all the time.  But Freya Graffham, a fairly new policewoman, won't let it go. Working under the direction of Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler, she's on a race to solve the disappearances before any more people vanish.

Let me be frank - this is a good, suspenseful mystery.  Despite short passages throughout the book from the point of view of the villain, I didn't see the end coming at all.  But what makes this whole series just soar above the pack for me isn't the mystery - it's the characters. Hill has a genius for fleshing out characters without bogging the story down in unnecessary detail.  That's true of Freya, Simon, and Simon's family, especially his sister Cat, but it's also true of the victims.  In just a few pages, we come to know them and care about them, so their fate matters.

I really love these books.  They've got good plots, but they're not the typical plot driven mysteries where the characters are too often cardboard cutouts.  If you like literary mysteries and to be immersed in a fictional town full of very human people, I highly recommend this series.  You might also try the mysteries of P.D. James.

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