Sunday, 29 April 2012

"The Various Haunts of Men" by Susan Hill

I have recently read the first book in various detective series, and comparing and contrasting them is an interesting exercise.

I must admit to never having read anything by Susan Hill before save for Howard's End Is On The Landing at the recommendation of Simon Thomas. I had however read a lot about her, and knew that she was rated as a fine writer. Having now read this book, I would agree with this, but with qualifications.

The Various Haunts of Men follows the fortunes of the detective who will feature as the central character of the series, Simon Serailleur, and a thoroughly dissatisfying character he is too. We learn almost nothing about what makes him tick. On the contrary, we see him almost exclusively through the eyes of others, and then only to hear them telling each other what a puzzling person he is, who does not seem able to offer commitment to a relationship, or allow himself any feelings. I am sure this is a deliberate ploy on Hill's part, but it seems an odd approach to take. Perhaps things change in the later books. It is difficult to say more about the plot or characters without giving away what is meant to be a savage twist at the end, but I have to say that I guessed the ending (all of it) about half way through the book.

I think I read somewhere that she claims not to write detective fiction, but rather novels which feature a detective. In the light of that, I was expecting a Wallender-type experience, but this falls a long way short. When Mankell describes someone moving around their home talking things off shelves it somehow enriches our understanding of their character. Here it just feels like padding.

This is a good story and I am sure it will somehow end up on television, but it left me feeling slightly disappointed. It felt almost more like a women's romantic novel than a detective story.

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