It’s very unusual for me to read two unrelated books in succession by the same author. Susan Hill has benefited by producing the short “Printer’s Devil Court” which I chose as a successful reintroduction to the world of audio books- a format I’d struggled with on previous attempts and there’s also a story behind my selection of this book.
At Sandown Library, one of the libraries I work at on the Isle Of Wight there is a year long initiative going on. It’s the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge which involves pulling from a hat a reading theme or suggestion. It is running throughout 2018 (new participants welcome) and will culminate in a prize draw for those open-minded and determined towards their reading choices who manage to complete 20 of these challenges. It’s a little like the Book Bingo which I set up and which is still running at Shanklin Library, but without the bingo card and the route to success cannot be planned in quite the same way, adding a randomness which has led to the Russian Roulette title. My initial challenge was to read a book which is first in a series. I’d heard good things about Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler crime series and this instantly sprung to mind, with the first book being conveniently on the shelves.
The most surprising thing about this series starter is the rather low- key presence of the Chief Inspector of Lafferton Police, Simon Serrailler. He does not play much of a role in the solving of the crime here. That falls more to members of his team, namely recent arrival from the Metropolitan Police, DS Freya Graffham and the man described as having a face only a mother could love, the enthusiastic DC Nathan Coates. Serrailler has an in-charge role to play. He is good-looking and known as a heart-breaker due to his playing hot and cold with female emotions. It is intriguing that he is the character the series is built around because on this showing I found him to be one of the least interesting characters. Probably the author is allowing him to develop over the ten more novels to date rather than having him shine too brightly in the opener with us losing interest in him.
Also, unusually for a twenty-first century crime novel this takes quite a while to get going. There’s a disappearance quite early on and then we are drawn into a series of characters who are using alternative medical practitioners as well as us finding out how newbie to Lafferton, Freya, is establishing herself socially in the town whilst getting the hots for her new Chief Inspector. At one point I was concerned that the novel might be a little too pedestrian for me.
But then, events began happening and the groundwork had been so cleverly laid by the author that it really drew me in, and, perfect reaction for a crime novel, I sped up as the book progressed. There were twists I didn’t see coming and it ends up as a highly satisfactory read and a great introduction to a series. I’m still not sure of the relevance of such an evocative title though.
The Various Haunts Of Men was published in 2004 by Chatto and Windus. I read the 2009 paperback edition.