The Various Haunts of Men – Susan Hill

Sleepy little Lafferton is rudely awoken when it’s discovered that too many people are disappearing. First, a woman vanishes in the fog up on the Hill, then a young girl, an old man, and a dog, all in the same place. Former Londoner, policewoman Freya Graffham, is the one who spots the trend. She eventually persuades Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler that the disappearances are not the usual bill of fare, and throws herself into the investigation. Meantime, there’s lots of other stuff going on in Lafferton. There’s an active community of New Age healers and spirit worshipers nearby, and the novel takes time out to describe some of the encounters Lafferton folk have there.

This was a strange book. My overall impression was that it was bloated with unnecessary stuff, and should have been sharply edited down. Also, although billed as the first of the Simon Serrailler series, he is very much overshadowed by Freya Graffham. Indeed, we probably get more sight of his sister, a local, hard working, and conscientious GP. Given Freya’s attraction to Simon, the focus seems somewhat off to me. Further, this P. D. James or Ruth Rendell type story comes across as being very dated, describing a very white environment; I did not spot a single ethnic based character.

One explanation for the approach the author takes, is that the intent was to write about the place, and not the the crime. If that were the case, I would not have expected to see so much of the killer’s perspective; for example, there are several short chapters of the killer’s rants.

It may be a question of style, but I did not find the book, enjoyable. It was OK, but could have been much better had it had a sharper focus. I would have gladly done without some of the wasted narrative.  I cannot resist pointing out that for me, this was not only the first of the Simon Serrailler series, but also likely to be the last!

Avoid, unless you have a great desire to read about Lafferton.