Susan Hill, “The Various Haunts of Men”

Actually this is a three-fer because I’ve just whipped through the first three of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler novels. You might remember that last time I said I was slowing down the posts, and would share only what delighted me.

Well, friends. When a murder mystery you’ve already read seems more interesting the second time around, that’s reason to cheer. And when the first three books in a series are this complex and ambiguous — while still ticking all the boxes for us mystery-series junkies — I need to tell you about it.

J.M.W. Turner, "Scarborough Town and Castle" -- relevant to "The Risk of Darkness," but much more cheerful

J.M.W. Turner, “Scarborough Town and Castle” — relevant to “The Risk of Darkness,” but much more cheerful

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Susan Hill’s detective Simon Serrailler fits neatly into the mystery canon. Tall, handsome, charming, clever, he’s got a secret life as an artist (sensitive drawings of Venice: not sure I’d like them) and a complex family life. And while he’s total catnip to women, he is a real jerk to them. In fact at the end of The Risk of Darkness, which I just finished, we find Simon coming close to boorishness, and rescued only by his resolute introversion. But, hey, he’s coping with a serial child-murderer whom it took him two whole books to snag. (The first being The Pure in Heart.) So I guess he’s got an excuse.

His bad behavior isn’t quite so obvious in The Various Haunts of Men but this is a fellow who’s an expert at compartmentalization. This habit is threatened by his gifted and attractive new subordinate, DS Freya Graffham. Pay close attention to the way Hill uses her points of view: we get liberal doses of Freya here, as she tracks down a nasty psychopath. In fact throughout these books, Hill’s broad empathy and imagination take us into the minds of victims and criminals, cops and bystanders. She’s comprehensive and un-judgmental. Best of all, her startling plots breathe new life into a conventional literary form.

No, wait: best of all, there’s a new Susan Hill mystery coming out in November.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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5 Responses to Susan Hill, “The Various Haunts of Men”

  1. Lovely to see my favorite book blogger reappear on my Reader. I have a Susan Hill somewhere in the pile. “Woman in Black”, I believe. I found it in a used book store ages ago. They had a fresh lot just in from an Englishman who had cleaned out his stacks. It’s a ghost story and you know how you have to be in the mood for those….this Simon Serailler sounds intriguing enough for me to seek one of these mysteries out. Thank you!

  2. carolwallace says:

    I know, Barb. I think that extra “r” is a little affected. I liked “The Woman in Black” (see BGOO) but the mysteries are a much easier sell for me. Hill is one terrific writer!

  3. Alex says:

    I enjoyed the first of these, but I think they’ve gone steadily down hill (no pun intended) since then. I wouldn’t bank on that November publication, by the way. It’s been put back a couple of times already.

    • carolwallace says:

      Good to know, Alex. Hill’s got quite a few other fish to fry, so I’m not surprised. And I do agree that the later books aren’t as strong as the first three but isn’t that always the way it goes? And I also think a not-quite-first-quality Hill is better than most mysteries.

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