😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
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.
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?”
“That’s it. Exactly. Which equips you to work well in…”
“Instead of which you have to work in…”
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.