A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

a clubbable woman 2A promising debut whose promise was fulfilled…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Sam Connon had been a rising star destined one day to play rugby for England, when his career was thrown off track by an injury. Still fit to play, though not at the top levels, he was a stalwart of the local rugby team in Mid Yorkshire, and still turns out occasionally for the fourth team – the old-timers whose glory days are behind them. On this afternoon, he has had a kick in the head during a scrum, which has left him feeling woozy and sick. So when he returns home, he merely pops his head into the living-room to let his wife know he’s home and then goes straight to bed, where he falls into something approaching unconsciousness for several hours. His wife hadn’t acknowledged his greeting but that wasn’t too unusual – their marriage was rocky, at best. But when he comes downstairs again, he discovers she is dead, with a circular hole in the middle of her forehead…

This is the first book in the long-running Dalziel and Pascoe series – my favourite crime series of all time. I originally started, as so often, in the middle of the series and then backtracked to the earlier books. And I’m rather glad I did, because although this one is a good, solid police procedural it’s nowhere near the standard that Hill reached as the series evolved. Both Andy Dalziel and Pete Pascoe have some of the attributes that make them such a memorable pairing, but they’re not yet fully developed. Andy is as brash and uncouth as he will always be, without yet the depth of characterisation that reveals the intelligence, subtlety and loyalty to his junior colleagues that is seen in later books. Pete, still single, spends much of his time having a rather annoying internal monologue, partly about the attractions of the various women he meets in the course of the investigation, and partly about his resentment and reluctant admiration for his boorish boss.

Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan as Dalziel and Pascoe in the BBC adaptation.
Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan as Dalziel and Pascoe in the BBC adaptation.

The plotting is very good as, of course, is the writing. First published in 1970, the book shows its age in Hill’s depiction of most of the women as sexual temptresses – surprising for someone who went on to write one of the most intriguingly feminist characters in crime fiction in Elly, Pete’s future wife. I guess that as a debut writer, Hill may have been trying to conform to what was then the norm, whereas he soon became a leader in the field, showing the way in including strong female and even empathetic gay characters long before the trailing pack would have dared. However, Connon’s daughter Jenny feels almost like an embryonic Elly, giving a hint of his later style in depicting women as intelligent, witty and, above all, equal to his male characters. Jenny’s boyfriend, Anthony, is the first example of another ‘type’ that appears regularly throughout the series in different personas – decidedly straight men but with slightly effeminate traits, intellectual and rather urbane, with a love of words. I have always wondered how much these characters might have been autobiographical.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

The plot is interesting and quite traditional in format – all of the action centres around the rugby club so there is a defined list of suspects all with various motives. Andy, as a leading figure both in the club and in Mid Yorks life, knows everybody and this gives him access to ‘inside information’. Pete worries that Andy is too close to the people involved and doesn’t yet know him well enough to be sure that he won’t let his actions and opinions be swayed by friendship. But true to his later characterisation, Andy believes in justice above all, though he might step outside the bounds occasionally to achieve it. And the solution when it comes gives hints of the complex morality of the criminals Hill will introduce us to in future years.

To be honest, if I were reading this for the first time with no knowledge of the series, I’d probably be saying it’s a promising debut, better written than most but fairly standard otherwise. And I might or might not have gone on to read the next one. So when I highly recommend it, as I am doing, it’s as the first step in what becomes something exceptional further down the line. A series to be read in its entirety, and though not essential to read them in order, best read that way to see how all three of them – Dalziel and Pascoe, and Hill himself – develop as the years go by.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

31 thoughts on “A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

  1. I am very fond of a bit of Dalziel and Pascoe and have never read this one! I suppose it is in some ways expected that the first in the series isn’t quite going to have the brilliance of the later ones, but this one really does appeal to me. I can’t believe it was first published in 1970!

  2. Scrum! Haha. That’s a funny word.

    So, was she shot, do you suppose? The hole in the head, see. That chap on the right looks like the fellow who played Spiderman, you know.

    And his name is rather polite. And important sounding, too.

    • I watched the 4th quarter last night – it was quite exciting! Too bad they just missed out on evening up the score… Rugby’s still better, though!

      Aha! Well, no – but you’re close! I don’t know who played Spiderman…

      Who? Colin Buchanan? He’s Scottish, so of course he’s important.

        • Yup, it was kinda sad. Hey! Scrums are no laughing matter, you know!

          Hmm – no, but again – sorta almost close. You’ll never guess in a million years – you’ll need to read it! Intriguing – I wonder if he can climb walls?

          Oh! Well, he’s definitely important, because he just is! Even though he’s English…

            • Girlish?!? How dare you! I’m impressed how you managed to insult both rugby and girls in one sentence though… *admiring face*

              Nope! But I’ll give you a clue – have you ever reloaded a stapler? Oh, I bet you could already – you should try!

              That he’s English? Well, by the silly accent… *chuckles wickedly*

            • *laughing* Oh I dare a bit here and there. I know! Wasn’t it a zinger?

              Yes…but wouldn’t that put two holes in the head? *laughs* If I die…

              Oh. That’s simple enough, I suppose.

            • It was!! Unfortunately the Feminists are now getting together with the Scottish Rugby squad to seek revenge…

              *laughs* Well, I wasn’t exactly thinking of stapling her head – more the kind of spring action thing that happens when you open a stapler – only more powerful. See, I’ve nearly given it away now… Oh, you won’t die! You’re too…

  3. I know exactly what you mean, FictionFan, about the value of going back and looking at the first novel in a series once you’ve seen how good it gets. This one doesn’t reach the heights that Hill’s work did later, of course, but it does set the stage. And as you say, it’s a good mystery. I think it’s worth getting a sense of how it all started, anyway.

    • Yes, there are some books in the series I’ve read many times, mainly from the middle and end of the series. But I tend not to re-read the early ones because I know they’re not quite as good. But really, this has stood the test of time pretty well and has quite a few hints as to how Hill would develop as the years went by.

  4. The only Reginald Hill book that I have read is On Beulah Height. Discussed it with one by Peter Robinson, In A Dry Season. The commonality was that both were concerned with the draining of a lake and finding a village underneath or something like that. Both were well received and I did not follow up and read any more by either author. I need to rectify that, but both authors have such long, long series. Sigh. One day.

    • I must say that On Beulah Height is the book I always name as my favourite crime novel of all time. Although I could say that about pretty much any of the second half of this series. I know, I think there’s 20 or 22 books in this series, and another six or so of his Joe Sixsmith novels – but they’re worth it! I’m embarking on a re-read of the whole thing in order – probably take me about three years!

  5. Glad you finally got your reread. I don’t think I read this one – I was never as keen on D and P as you are, maybe I’ll give them another try. Looking back, I think I was clinging to the three great ladies of crime, Christie, Marsh and Sayers, while I waited for the next female author to come along!

    • Yes, I’m scheduling re-reads in now – you know how strong I am at sticking to resolutions! 😉 I knwo what you mean – there was a sort of seismic shift in British crime writing around the beginning of the 70s, with the amateur or upper-class detective giving way to the police procedural, and it took a bit of getting used to. Though you were cheerfully reading police procedurals from the US even before that, I think.

  6. Another one I haven’t read, and it sounds as if I’ve missed something special, too! Thanks, as always, for bringing this one to my attention — though my TBR list is starting to groan aloud, ha!

    • I think this is a great series, Debbie, so I do highly recommend it. But if you’re not the type who has to read the series in order, then the ones from later on are definitely better than the very early ones. Haha! Tell me about TBRs! Never mind, there’s only about 22 in this series… 😉

  7. Oh what a fab review of one of my favourite series of all time – I was hoping you’d go back to the beginning when you mentioned you hoped to re-read some of these – I’m sure I did read this one, our library had quite an impressive stock, but to be honest, if I did the details are now lost in the mists of time… it is interesting that as you say, the author started off conforming to the norm (almost) but as time went on he really did become the leader of the pack. Thank you – this review has made my day and I will NEED to find a copy of this one soon!

    • Thanks, Cleo! 😀 Yes, I’m planning to gradually re-read them all in order. I’ve read some of them loads of times and others only once or twice, and it tends to be the earliest ones I ignore. But I was pleased that on the whole this one stands up to the test of time pretty well. Not as brilliant as the later ones, but still better than most! I’m looking forward to tracking how his characters change and develop from book to book…

  8. Okay, I’m heading to the library today to grab this. I’m in the mood for this, though I’m sure I’ll groan at the depiction of women. Still your review really makes me want to read this, especially since the show is so good. 😀

    • Oh, I hope you enjoy it, L. Marie! Yes, there are bits about the women that feel a bit dated, but not as badly as some. Hill went on to write some fantastic female characters, so I’m willing to forgive him for his early efforts – the times were different back then!

        • Oh, brilliant! I’m glad your enjoying it! Isn’t it a pain when libraries only stock some of a series? But it’s not absolutely essential to read these in order and Ruling Passion is a good one – you learn quite a lot about Pascoe in that one, and meet Elly… 🙂

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