An Advancement of Learning (Dalziel and Pascoe 2) by Reginald Hill

an advancement of learningPolitics and orgies – the academic life…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The staff and students of Holm Coultram College gather together to watch a statue of a giant bronze nude be lifted from its present site on the college lawn to make way for a new building. Feelings are running high in some quarters, since the statue is a singularly inappropriate memorial to the late lamented head of the college, Alison Girling, killed some years ago in a freak avalanche while on holiday in Austria. But things are about to take a dark turn. As the plinth is raised into the air and the earth falls away from beneath it, bones appear, first a shin-bone, then some ribs, and finally a skull complete with a shock of vivid red hair still attached…

This is the second outing for Andy Dalziel and Pete Pascoe, published in 1971. While there’s still some way to go before either of the characters become the fully rounded ones of the middle and late series, both have developed quite a bit from their first appearance in A Clubbable Woman. This time it’s Dalziel who’s out of his comfort zone, relying on Pascoe for insights into how the world of academia operates. Both characters are shown as more intelligent perhaps than in the first book, certainly more shrewd. Dalziel is showing his trademark technique of riding roughshod over anyone who makes the incorrect assumption that just because he’s a blunt Yorkshireman (though Scottish by birth, let’s not forget) then he must be thick. Pascoe is considerably more thoughtful in this one, less rough around the edges, beginning to show that softer more intellectual side which develops as the series progresses. Yes, it’s still the early ’70s, so there is still a little too much emphasis on women being judged primarily by the size of their breasts, but on the whole I felt the females were considerably more nuanced in this one – not all voracious man-hunters, or at least, not solely!

The blurb of my copy of the book, an early printing, suggests that Pascoe is the focus of the series, which I found interesting since I would always say that Dalziel is the dominant character, though it’s always a duo rather than a one-man-band. It’s true that most of the books are mainly written from Pascoe’s viewpoint, but Dalziel is such a huge character that he’s always right there casting his shadow over whatever Pete might be looking at. In these early books, Dalziel and Pascoe are the only two central characters – the expanded team of the later books, with Sergeant Wield, PC Novella et al, haven’t yet been introduced. But in this one, we meet two characters who will reappear: Ellie Soper and Franny Roote. Ellie is an old girlfriend of Pete’s and it looks like the embers of their relationship might still be glowing. Ellie is already strong and feisty, but in terms of development, she has even further to travel than either Dalziel or Pascoe before becoming the excellent lead female character of later books.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

Franny is one of Hill’s more intriguing characters, whom he will return to occasionally throughout the series. The head of the Student Union in this book, Franny is already showing the moral ambiguity that will become more pronounced each time he appears. Knowing more about him from the later books added a lot of interest to my re-read of this one – it becomes clear that Hill too found him intriguing in the writing of him, and felt that there was plenty more to explore. In fact, though all the characters continue to develop and change, Franny is perhaps the one who remains most consistent over the years. His story develops as time goes by, but the fundamental ambivalence surrounding his character is here already in this first appearance.

The plotting is complex and interesting, involving everything from departmental and student politics to orgies on the beach, though the final resoultion veers dangerously close to the old credibility line. But as always it’s the writing and characterisation that lifts this series so far above the average. Both Dalziel and Pascoe are great characters individually and the contrasts between them allow for some great humour, particularly in their dialogue. Hill is a master of allowing his characters to reveal themselves to the reader as they gradually learn to respect each other more…

“You’ve got specialized knowledge. Or think you have. Without being in a specialized job. You’ve got this… whatever it is…”
“Degree, sir,” said Pascoe helpfully.
“I know it’s a bloody degree. But in something, isn’t it?”
“Social sciences.”
“That’s it. Exactly. Which equips you to work well in…”
“Society, sir?”
“Instead of which you have to work in…”
“Society, sir?”
There was a long pause during which Dalziel looked at the sergeant more in sorrow than in anger.
“That’s what I mean,” he said finally. “You’re too bloody clever by half.”

A fine second book that’s left me even keener to get on with re-reading the rest.

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27 thoughts on “An Advancement of Learning (Dalziel and Pascoe 2) by Reginald Hill

  1. Oh, isn’t this a great one, FictionFan? Admittedly, the characters get a bit richer as the series goes on. But I do love the academic intrigue here. And yes, Franny Roote is a fascinating character. I’m glad he recurs. And I do love the way Hill shares the beginnings (well, sort of) of Peter Pascoe and Ellie Soper’s relationship. It gives the reader some grounding, if that’s the right word, for what happens in later novels. And let’s not forget the wit. I love Dalziel’s commentary on some of the students at the college:
    “Look at the sods! … Just look at them. And this is supposed to be a place of bloody learning.”
    You can just see Dalziel’s facial expression…


    • Haha! Yes, poor old Dalziel doesn’t have a terribly high opinion of the academic life, does he? I do like seeing how the characters developed over time. I’ve read lots of the later books many times, but I haven’t revisited the early ones for ages – it’s interesting seeing how Hill’s style evolved as the series went on. These early ones are very good police procedurals, but don’t have quite the depth of the later books. Still head and shoulders above most of what’s out there though!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This one seems very up my street for obvious reasons! Actually, I am almost positive I have seen the TV adaptation of this one – although I could be confusing it with a Morse. My mind isn’t what it was. Now – I would also have said that Dalziel was the lead character in this series but then I haven’t read the early books and am relying mainly on my memories of the TV programme. But anyway. I love his reaction to the students 🙂


    • I think they did stick pretty closely to the books in the early days of the series, so you probably have seen this one. Maybe he meant to make Pascoe the central character but Dalziel’s character just took over in the end? I don’t know – but I know I was always a bit disappointed with the occasional book where Dalziel didn’t feature as much. Haha! Yes, I don’t think Dalziel had much time for either students or academics!


    • Yes, I’ve read a lot of the later books many times, but haven’t revisited these earlier ones for ages – it’s interesting to see how the characters and style changed over time, especially with regards to attitudes to women! His plots are always interesting, if sometimes a bit strange…


  3. So, I’ve only read one book in this series – ON BEULAH HEIGHT. I’d love to read all of it, but so many. Have you watched the TV adaptation and what’ your opinion of it?


    • On Beulah Height is the book I always mention as my favourite crime novel of all time – though lots of the later books in this series could claim that title. I enjoyed the TV adapation – Warren Clarke as Dalziel was very good, though not quite as over-the-top as he is in the books. I wasn’t so keen on Colin Buchanan as Pascoe, but he was OK. In the beginning they stuck pretty closely to the books, but as the series went on they grew further and further apart and I kind of lost interest after a while. I still enjoy an occasional re-watch of the earlier ones though…


  4. I think some academics (perhaps all?) don’t have a very high opinion of academia. In any case, bones under a statue!! What an awesome hook! Oh, yes, right, I wasn’t going to put any more books on the pile until I got caught up….


    • Academia is something of a recurring theme in this series, and it rarely comes away unscathed…

      These books are great, and there’s only about twenty-two of them (and twenty or so standalones and other series). So you’ll be able to fit them in no problem…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another interesting selection! Drat, if I don’t quit adding to my TBR, my bedside table is going to collapse from the weight! Oh, well, perhaps I should just have a chocolate bunny and ignore the groaning!!


  6. Bloody is such a funny word, I’ve decided. But I do believe it’s a cuss word.

    So, how was the body put under the thingy? That’s what I want to know, the sudden. Yes, yes, and no lies!


    • It is a cuss word, so no wonder you like it!! *stares disapprovingly at the sweary Professor*

      Lies? Me?? *innocent face* Well… I shouldn’t really tell but… since it’s you… Well, down in Australia, a psychopathic kangaroo committed a horrific murder and then decided to bury the body. But he didn’t know his own strength – his name was Brock, I think – so he accidentally dug all the way through the centre of the earth and so the body turned up underneath a statue in Yorkshire! But don’t tell anyone – such a spoiler…


      • *laughs* But not over here, it isn’t! So, that means I’m technically not swearing.

        Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Brock the Kangaroo. That would make a great children’s story. See? You must be good with children, after all. Hmm. I still feel as if I’m being told half-truths.


        • Yes, it is! Yes, you are! And technically, that means I shall have to beat you with a porridge ladle… and if you’re not careful, I won’t even wash it first!

          Euww, the horrid little critters like me more than I like them, but that’s ‘cos I don’t dribble, see. Well, not often. But I don’t understand why you don’t believe me – you know I’m not creative enough to make things up!


  7. I agree with you about the characterization. While the mysteries seem easily solve (and sometimes aren’t very satisfying), the character dynamics are always worth the investment of diving into this series. I’m glad you introduced me to it!


    • Yes, it’s Dalziel and Pascoe I love, and later the other recurring characters too, rather than the plots, although in the later ones I do think the plots get better – more interesting. Glad you’re enjoying them! Are you still working your way through them?


  8. Yes. the team dynamics was very interesting in “April Shroud”.
    I finished “an advancement of learning” 2x (forgot the ending after many years) and I enjoyed
    the book, the characters, etc. all over again.
    But at the end, I wonder about the reason for the murder(s). Seemed weak / unconvincing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think his plotting did improve over time, but it was never a major strength. I quite often find I remember the characters and the setting but not the actual storyline.


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