As I was reading up on mysterious theatre following my trip to London last summer, I realized that in addition to writing the long-running play “The Woman in Black,” Susan Hill has also written a crime series featuring British chief inspector Simon Serrailler. I finally read the first in the series, The Various Haunts of Men (2004).
Although the subtitle tells us that it’s a “Simon Serrailler Mystery,” the first part of the book is about pretty much everyone except Simon — his sister, Cat Deerbon, and her family; his new DS, Freya Graffham; various townspeople, like Angela Randall and Debbie Parker, who’ve gotten caught up in the alternative medicine community in the next town; and the criminal, who’s leaving a record of his life. Simon appears only momentarily and isn’t any more important than any of the other characters.
The story involves several people, primarily women, who go missing from the town. DS Graffham, new to Lafferton and looking to make her mark, suspects the disappearances are connected, and her investigation begins to uncover information but no obvious motive or clues to the whereabouts of the missing people. Meanwhile, Cat grows concerned about the alternative medicine being practiced nearby, particularly a new surgeon who operates psychically, and Simon and most of the rest of the police force concentrate on a drug operation.
There’s as much about the town and characters as there is about the mystery, and it reminded me of Camilla Läckberg’s Fjallbacka in terms of developing and presenting an entire town rather than just a few characters; in style the book is in the tradition of P.D. James or Deborah Crombie. Only at the very end does the book focus on Simon and his internal life, when events force him to consider his decisions, with regret.
I’m adding the rest of this series to my reading list and look forward to finding out where Simon goes from here.
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Book #1 in the Thriller and Suspense Challenge