😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
Peter Pascoe and his girlfriend, Ellie Soper, are off for a weekend break to visit old university friends now living in the village of Thornton Lacey. But when they get there, they are met with tragedy – three of their friends lie dead from shotgun wounds and the fourth, Colin, is missing. Not surprisingly, Colin immediately becomes the chief suspect, but neither Peter nor Ellie can bring themselves to believe he could have done such a horrific thing. Meantime, back in Mid-Yorkshire, Dalziel wants Peter back as soon as possible, since they are in the middle of a major investigation of a string of burglaries that seems to be escalating into violence.
First published in 1973, this is the third book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and shows a big leap in the development of some of the characters. Pascoe has changed out of all recognition from the rather commonplace young man of the first book. He’s now showing the intelligence and sensitivity that make him such an enjoyable character, both in his own right and as a contrast to the brash and arrogant Dalziel. Dalziel still has some way to go in terms of development – he’s still not quite the larger than life figure he will become. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s missing in his character so far, but am looking forward to spotting it as the series progresses. I think it may be his touch of omniscience, or that he hasn’t quite fully become the ‘big fish in a small pond’ of later books.
Ellie, too, has developed a good deal from the last book, but is also not yet fully the Ellie of the middle and later ones. With her character, Hill gets away from the, to modern eyes, outdated portrayal of women as little more than sexual temptresses that he gave us in the first book. Ellie is a mixture of strength and softness – a feminist at a time when feminism hadn’t quite worked out what it wanted to be when it grew up. Volatile and feisty, politically on the left and therefore deeply ambivalent about Peter’s job in that tool of capitalist oppression, the police force, she often gives him a hard time. But deep down she knows he’s one of the good guys and agrees, though she might never say it, that his job is one that needs to be done, and is better done by honourable, intelligent men than by thugs like Dalziel (it’s the ’70s, chaps, so forgive the inbuilt sexism in that sentence – Hill will introduce women police detectives later). In this book, though, she also begins to get to know Dalziel better and starts the slow process of realising that maybe his thuggish exterior hides a more complex and nuanced morality than she’s ready to give him credit for.
Pascoe’s relationship with Ellie and this trip back to his university days highlights his intellectual side, which in turns allows Hill to start what becomes a feature of later books – references, some subtle, some humorous, to the greats of English literature, especially Jane Austen. The title is from Pope and his poem Eloisa and Abelard plays a minor role in the plot. If you spotted that the name of the village comes from Ms Austen’s Mansfield Park, well done! Some of the characters’ names are also from Austen, often her juvenilia. If you like these sorts of references, it can be fun trying to spot them, or googling them; but, if the thought makes you go cross-eyed with boredom, I can reassure you that they’re completely incidental to enjoying the books. When I first read them, long, long, ago, I was unaware that Hill liked to play these games, never spotted them, and never felt that I was missing anything.
The plot in this one is deeply confusing with too many people playing minor parts and too much coincidence coming into play. I’m finding on this re-read that the plot tends to be the weakest part of each of the books so far. It’s always set up interestingly, as with this one in the triple murder scene, but somehow it tends to get a bit over complicated as the book progresses. However, it’s the quality of the writing and characterisation that lift even these early books above the average. There is always plenty of humour to offset the darkness of the storylines. Hill gives a believable picture of Ellie and Peter’s grief at the deaths of their friends, but without wallowing in it. And their growing relationship is handled beautifully, showing all the compromises that have to be made when two strong characters collide, but also the rewards that come in a partnership of real equals. This one works fine as a standalone, as they nearly all do, but I must say that reading them in order gives extra pleasure in seeing both the characters and Hill’s writing style develop as the series progresses.