March 8, 2015

The Various Haunts of Men

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
A Simon Serrailler Crime Novel (#1)
2011 Blackstone Audio
Reader: Steven Pacey
Finished on February 22, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

A woman vanishes in the fog on "the Hill," an area known locally for its tranquility and peace. The police are not alarmed; people usually disappear for their own reasons. But when a young girl, an old man and even a dog disappear no-one can deny that something untoward is happening in this quiet cathedral town. Young policewoman Freya Graffham is assigned to the case; she's new to the job, compassionate, inquisitive, dedicated and needs to know - perhaps too much. She and the enigmatic Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler have the task of unravelling the mystery behind this gruesome sequence of events. From the passages revealing the killer's mind to the final heart-stopping twist, The Various Haunts of Men is a masterly crime debut.

From Amazon:

When Susan Hill first introduced us to the city of Lafferton, to its meticulously crafted cast of characters, and to its chief police inspector Simon Serrailler, readers went wild. When it was released in hardcover, The Various Haunts of Men was named a BookSense Pick and was immediately on the must-read list of every mystery fan. Now out in paperback, Hill's intricate and pulse-pounding novel will reach an even wider audience. 

As the story begins, a lonely woman vanishes while out on her morning run. Then a 22-year-old girl never returns from a walk. An old man disappears too. When fresh-faced policewoman Freya Graffham is assigned to the case, she runs the risk of getting too invested--too involved--in the action. Alongside the enigmatic detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler, she must unravel the mystery before events turn too gruesome. 

Written with intelligence, compassion, and a knowing eye--in the tradition of the fabulous mysteries of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James--The Various Haunts of Men is an enthralling journey into the heart of a wonderfully developed town, and into the very mind of a killer.

This is a marvelous book! I accidentally read The Shadows in the Street, which is the fifth installment in the Simon Serrailler series, a couple of years ago and enjoyed it immensely. After reading Kay’s review for another book in the series, I remembered that I wanted to get back to this author’s books and decided to see if I could borrow The Various Haunts of Men from my library. I was able to get it on audio and it was top-notch listening experience. I got so caught up in the narration, I found myself holding my breath, anxious to hear what was about to happen next. One of the nice things about listening to an audio book is that I am never really sure where I am or how much further it is to the last chapter. I find that this intensifies the suspense more than when I’m reading a print edition of a mystery or thriller. On the negative side, I missed out on a two-page detailed map of Lafferton, which is presented at the beginning of the book and which I only happened to stumble upon while looking up a couple of passages to share.

I don’t remember too much about the mystery in the other book I read, but I do remember that I liked the characters, so it was nice to start at the beginning of the series and get some background history on the main cast. Hill’s characters are fleshed out and the dialogue rings true, although I had to laugh at one point when one of the characters was referred to as middle aged. She is 53. Seriously? I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself middle aged!

I love a good mystery and Hill kept me guessing up until the end of the book, but I also enjoyed the domestic details (reminiscent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s) of the narrative.

On simple comforts of home:

Simon went into the kitchen but Cat did not follow, not yet, she wanted to luxuriate in this room. It ran the length of the house and had long windows. From the kitchen there was a glimpse of the Hill. 

The white-painted wooden shutters were folded back. The polished old elm floorboards had two large good rugs. Light poured in, on to Simon’s pictures and his few carefully chosen pieces of furniture which mixed antiques and contemporary classics with confident success. Beyond this one huge room, he had a small bedroom and a bathroom tucked out of the way, and then the galley kitchen. Everything centred here, in this one calm room, where Cat came, she thought, for almost the same reasons she went to church—peace, quiet, beauty and spiritual and visual recharging of her batteries. Nothing about her brother’s flat bore any relation to her own hugger-mugger farmhouse, always noisy and untidy, spilling over with children, dogs, wellington boots, bridles and medical journals. She loved it, that was where her heart was, where she had deep roots. But a small, vital nugget of herself belonged here, in this sanctuary of light and tranquility. She thought it was probably what kept Simon sane and able to do his often stressful and distressing job as well as he did.

On house calls and death:

She prayed that her phone would not ring. Spending some time now with a dying patient—doing something so ordinary as making tea in this kitchen, helping an ordinary couple through the most momentous and distressing parting of all—put the hassle and increasing administrative burden of general practice in its place. Medicine was changing, or being changed, by the grey men who managed but did not understand it. A lot of Cat and Chris Deerborn’s colleagues were becoming cynical, burned out and demoralized. It would be easy to give in, to process people through the surgery like cans on a conveyor belt and palm the out-of-hours stuff on to locums. That way you got a good night’s sleep—and precious little job satisfaction. Cat was having none of it. What she was doing now was not cost-effective and no one could put a price on it. Helping Harry Chater through his dying, and looking after his wife as well as she could, were the jobs that mattered and as important to her as to them.

Excellent British series! I can’t wait to return to the cathedral town of Lafferton to see what’s in store for DC Simon Serrailler. Next up The Pure in Heart. British actor Steven Pacey is a wonderful reader and it appears that he is the reader for all the audio books in this series. If I can’t download the remaining seven from my library, I may have to break down and join

Go here to read Kay’s excellent review of The Pure in Heart.

You can find my review of The Shadow in the Streets here.


  1. If you think of living till 106, that makes 53 middle-aged!! :<)))

    1. Good point, Nan! I hope I don't live that long, though.

  2. I've read The Pure in Heart (recently) and The Risk of Darkness (several years ago) and want to read The Various Haunts...soon! Then I will continue the series. It was Kay who got me back into this series, and I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying it, too!

    1. Oh, Jenclair! You are in for a treat if you haven't read this one. I'm so glad Kay reminded me of this series. The Various Haunts of Men will most likely make my Top Ten list for 2015. So good!!

  3. So glad this one worked well for you, Les. I'm about to finish THE RISK OF DARKNESS and will move along to book #4. I'm so glad that I began this series (again). I had tried it some years ago and guess it just wasn't the right time.

    1. I'm so glad it worked well for me, too, Kay! I really need to get to the library and get a copy of The Pure in Heart. I hope I don't start getting these characters mixed up with Ruth and Nelson from the Elly Griffith series. Nah, not a chance! ;)

  4. Thanks Les! I've jotted this down on my to be bought list - next time I go to B & N - which I do about every Friday....

    Linda in VA

    1. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Linda!

  5. A very poignant review, Les. I've just put this book on hold at the library. It's definitely a must-read.

    1. I'm wondering if you meant for this comment to post on my Being Mortal review, Robin?


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