Various Haunts of Men

Looking at the PubSub "Litblog" output, which despite gloomy predictions seems to be still going, I see a review of Susan Hill's The Various Haunts of Men on a blog called The Little Professor — things Victorian and academic. Why such a blog would be reviewing a modern crime novel I don't know, but the posting did remind me that I have recently read this book and have forgotten to write about it.

The Little Professor isn't keen on the book, but I was more so. It is true, as the Little P says, that the detective billed as the series main character does not feature that much, but I don't think that is a problem in itself. This book is the first in a series, and the author has planted plenty of unanswered questions about him that no doubt will be addressed in future installments. The identity of the villain is, I agree, without much suspense: it could have been any of several minor characters and it did not seem to be logically inevitable, after all the various clues and red herrings, that it turned out to be this particular character. However, this type of thing is a weakness of many detective novels, most particularly the likes of Janet Evanovich where the villain can be a character so minor that this reader, for one, can't remember that they ever appeared briefly in chapter 2 and never again thereafter.

The point in Susan Hill's book is the characterisation of three women — a policeman, a GP (family doctor) and a friend of the doctor. And that's the book's main strength, and what makes it readable. The rest of it ("the haunts of men" and the police procedural) is neither here nor there. But the characters and interactions of these three women are definitely worth reading about; to be honest I am not sure why the book was not called "the various hauntings of women" though it does not have the same ring and is not a quotation.

There is a major "oomph" factor in the plot near the end, which is unexpected and has the sort of impact that lifts the book beyond the routine, despite the cliche with which this event is bought about. I think a lot depends on what the author does with the character of Simon Serrallier, the mysterious "series main character", in subsequent books.

As I've mentioned before, Susan Hill has a very interesting blog and website, and you often see her insightful comments  on blogs such as Grumpy Old Bookman and Chark Blog. She wrote the West End hit "A woman in black" which ran for a million years (probably is still running), quite a substantial body of books,  and is a bookseller. This book, incidentally, is on the shortlist for the Theakston's Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, and I believe deservedly so.

Originally posted at Petrona on 15 July 2006.

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This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, England, Europe, Police procedural, Series and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Various Haunts of Men

  1. James Long says:

    Thanks for an interesting reveiw, Maxine. I’ve not read any Susan Hill, but it does sound like she sorta missed the mark with this one, despite the good qualities in the book that you convincingly point out.

  2. Maxine says:

    Yes, James, if you are in the mood for a crime fiction book, I cannot recommend “Involuntary Witness” too highly. I think (hope) you would like it. Let me know if you would like to and I will bring in my copy to loan you. I would not particularly recommend this one (Susan Hill).

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