The first in the Simon Serrailler trilogy, The Various Haunts of Men is about mysterious disappearances on a still more mysterious hill in a small English town.
There’s very little Simon Serrailler for a Simon Serrailler book, but that’s okay–the rest of the cast is dynamic, involving, and interesting. Freya Graffam, a detective who’s just transferred to the town of Lafferton from London, is a smart and dedicated cop and a wonderful investigator to follow. You don’t even really miss Serrailler, even though you get intriguing glimpses of him (mostly through a love-struck Freya).
Hill’s writing is elegant. It’s like watching a very high-brow police procedural. Dark yet still compelling and appealing, with a building tension. The narrative switches a lot between characters, giving a sense of the scope of the town and its people, as well as their connections. It’s a nice mix of small-village story and crime.
One of the many POV’s in the book is a tape being narrated by the killer, and it’s very chilling and crazy. The killer’s sections make a nice counterpoint to Graffam’s hunt. And I have to give props to the one of the best killer motivations I’ve seen in a while, and very well-done reveal. A real sucker-punch dark ending, too.
An engaging and intricately constructed bit of crime fiction, and a promising start to a series. I’ll look forward to reading others, to see how Serrailler and his town are fleshed out.
If you’re a British mystery fan, and you like P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson, and/or Elly Griffiths, you might want to give this a try!
Simply Books! turned three years old in March! We’ve had just about the same core crew since the beginning. Along the way we’ve picked up new members who each bring something unique to our table. The Simply Books! crew, to a one, is friendly, intelligent, hilarious, warm, and, of course, well-read!
It really is an honor to facilitate this group. It occurs to me that our members are always thanking me and saying how great the group is. Which warms my heart, don’t get me wrong! But they really should be thanking themselves. It’s every member together that makes a book group fantastic. Along with that certain “It” factor. Whatever “It” is, Simply Books! has it in spades.
So thank you to every single member of Simply Books! I look forward to the fourth Saturday of the month like you wouldn’t believe. Talking books with all of you is one of the highlights of my professional life. Here’s to another three years!
All-righty then, on to the good stuff! This month I’ve decided to keep intact the list that I send by email to group members. Most of these descriptions are in their own words. It gives you a nice idea of what we cover at a meeting.
In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
A novel about a white Civil War veteran and his wife, an escaped slave, set in Vermont. It’s a story that spans three generations and revolves around a family secret. Very character-centered and character-driven, with lyrical and engrossing writing. Every character feels real.
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
This is the third in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and is absolutely delightful! Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, England, who turns her expertise about bones into a turn for solving crimes. Funny, with thin mystery plots that are secondary to the fantastic style and flawed (but always entertaining!) realism of the characters. (this is a series you can join anywhere, but the first is “The Crossing Places” if you wanted to start there)
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
A re-read (in the original German), and worth it! Quite beautiful, with many wonderful moments. It’s the story of a spiritual journey, with Buddhist sensibilities. A simple tale, but lyrically told.
Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan
The authorized biography of Redford (and yes, there are pictures!). The writing is pedestrian, but Redford’s life was quite amazing. His energy, environmental interests, film work, and athleticism all really come through. The one down side is that, as it’s an authorized biography, you don’t know what they’re leaving out.
A Formal Feeling by Zibby O’Neil
A beautifully rendered story of coming to terms with grief. Anne is a 16 year old girl who has recently lost her mother. Her father has already remarried, and Anne is home from boarding school for the holidays. The story revolves around Anne’s grieving process, and finally allowing herself to grieve. It’s a sophisticated young adult story with writing to match, tactile and evocative and filled with symbolism and imagery.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
A novel about dysfunctional families, secrets, and coming of age, this story spans about twenty-five years and the stories of five different characters. At the center of them all is a dangerous teenage sociopath and a crime he has committed, and through the points of view of the other characters his background and upbringing are brought to light. Very evocative of upper-class New England in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
This novel centers on Nora, a schoolteacher in her thirties who considers herself a forgotten and overlooked “woman upstairs.” She makes a connection with a student and his family, an obsessive connection which has disastrous
consequences. Nora is a compelling narrator, one you identify with…until she crosses that line into insanity with a line or a thought.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The classic novel of crime and its aftermath, as well as into the mind of a killer who seems perfectly normal. The reader mentioned especially how the reader is drawn into the minutiae of the protagonist’s life, of how creepily everyday the narrative is, when all the while he is plotting a gruesome murder.
I realized only after I’d sent the email that I’d totally forgotten to include the book I shared! Ooops. It was Hild by Nicola Griffith, and if you click this link you can read my blog post. I said pretty much all the same things.
If this post makes you curious about what Simply Books! is like in person, please come join us in a couple weeks! Our next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, April 26th at 2pm, in the Jean Picker Room.