Ruling Passion (Dalziel and Pascoe 3) by Reginald Hill

ruling passionTragedy at Thornton Lacey…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

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 With her character, Hill gets away from the, to modern eyes, outdated portrayal of women as little more than sexual temptresses that he gave us in the first book.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.

Susannah Corbett and Colin Buchanan as Ellie and Peter in the BBC adaptation
Susannah Corbett and Colin Buchanan as Ellie and Peter
in the BBC adaptation

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.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

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.

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55 thoughts on “Ruling Passion (Dalziel and Pascoe 3) by Reginald Hill

  1. Loving the new look, FF – very swish! I felt the need to tidy up my hair and straighten myself up before diving in to this post. It is always interesting to read early books in a series, to see how the characters relate to their later incarnations.

  2. Love the new look of your blog! I probably need to update mine.
    I’m glad to know that the characters improve. I enjoy them now, but there are certain things that irritate me.
    And you are so right about the plot of this book. I’m usually a little disappointed in the outcome of the plot–which seems almost an afterthought. I guess the character aspects trump plot. That’s good, but in a mystery, you really need a satisfying plot!

    • Thanks! It’s the first time I’ve changed it since I started blogging, so long overdue!

      I think the characters might stay a bit irritating – especially Ellie, whom I enjoy as a character but probably wouldn’t much like in real life. But I definitely prefer the later Dalziel when he becomes kind of larger than life, but still credible. And I think the plots stay quite odd too – sometimes they are straightforward whodunits, but other times they get a bit… strange. But by that stage in the series I loved his writing so much I was willing to go along…

  3. You know, FIctionFian, you’ve pointed out something I’d been aware of before, but not really reflected on: the way that plot threads can be a bit left behind in this series. Not all of the novels, but definitely some. But Hill’s writing (well, at least in my opinion) is so good, and the characters so well-developed, that I don’t mind it as much. That, to me, is the mark of a talented writer. And you make some really interesting comments about feminism as personified in Ellie. Definitely a force/movement/whatever, but as you say, not always with a really specific ‘final look’ in mind. But then, that’s one of the joys of this series: watching the characters grow up.

    • Yes, I think the plots are a bit weird sometimes – in some of the later books in particular. I’m pretty sure if I’d read one of the last ones first, I’d never have gone back to read the rest, but by that stage I felt they’d really moved beyond being crime fiction towards being literary fiction. And had become much more about the individuals in the team than about the stories, in some ways. Which I would normally hate too, when I think about it. It’s the intelligence of his writing that kept me on board, I think, along with the way the characters gradually became ‘real’ to me…

    • *laughs* You may have mentioned it, yes! But that’s OK – you can say it as often as you like! *preens*

      You’d hate Ellie! She’s a ferocious feminist! I model myself on her…

      • It is stunningly gorgeous–like GK. Anyways, well done. But you are missing your header pic now.

        A ferocious feminist! Goodness me. I’d either jits her or…take her out for noodles and explain why I look like GK. That would fetch her.

        • GK is not gorgeous!! There’s a big difference between a little kiss-curl and a sheep impersonation, you know, you know!! I did try it with a header pic but I didn’t think it looked very good. I may put one in later and you can tell me what you think…

          *laughs* Definitely the noodles option! And then she can tell me why…

          • What? You really don’t think so. Huff-Hum. You’re just not…looking at him the right way! Yes, that must be it. See. Kiss-curls turn into dadblamery. *still shielding eyes from the header pic* I’m so scared! Take it down!!

            Well, she’d tell you that the little chap in Polar Express–with the yellow robe–grows up into GK, see.

            • Look! I’ve told you before – leave the decisions on male gorgeousness or otherwise up to me! I’ve done years of research! You could take that picture with you next time you go to the hairdresser, as a guide…

              Eh? What? Huh? *befuddled face* The duet-monster?

            • You mean the wardaddy one? Okay, I will. But it might be quite a thing. Imagine a cut like that. *shivers*

              No, no. The one that looks like me! I do wonder what the Duet-monster got in that package now that you bring it up. Probably a play station. I’m also wondering, the sudden, how Giselle’s songs are okay, but that isn’t. I’m done wondering now.

            • Noooooooooooo!!!! The Darby one!! So the hairdresser can get your kisscurl right!

              Aha! Finally you admit it! But he was wearing a blue robe – not a nice tartan one like yours. I bet it was something rotten – Santa’s so mean! Probably a reindeer whip… *laughs lots* But Giselle is deliciously sweet, whereas the duet is sickly sweet! See? That’s How You Know! *tra-la-la*

            • Bah! Only girls go to hairdressers!!

              Giselle is sickeningly sweet? Well, I say, I’ve never! She’s more sickeningly sweet than a…a…a…cherry sucker dipped in sugar and honey! Yes, but he’s got blond hair.

            • Tchah! I bet Kenny has a whole team of hairdressers!!

              Giselle is NOT sickeningly sweet! She’s as adorable as… as… as a Professor in a tartan robe!!! *laughs despairingly* No he doesn’t – he has brown hair! Dadblameit! Go and watch the movie again! Now, sir!!

            • Well, yes…but he’s…well, he’s…maybe a bit, you know…

              She is! And kinda dumb too. I mean, anyone who sucks on aquarium fish has to be dumb. It was blonde! I used to watch it every year.

            • *laughs* Aah, well, yes…perhaps…a bit…

              Hahaha! I’d forgotten that bit – yes, that was most odd and really not terribly adorable at all! It’s brown!!!!!!!

              See?!?!?!?!!!!

  4. Well. easy to pass on this one. Thank goodness, since I’m being influenced by wayyyyy too many reviewers these days. Gotta say “no” more often than not…

    So, your theme was “retired” and you decided to move on. I DO like this new look. Makes me itch to change mine, something I’ve been meaning to do for a year now. Let’s see if I can get it together to make the switch…..

    • What?! I shall get you with one of the later ones in the series then…

      Thank you! I’ve put it off for ages on the grounds that it would inevitably be a disaster. But actually it couldn’t have been much easier. My wuss-ness is now under control and I can see me changing it three times a week from now on… 😉

    • Thanks! 😀 I’ve been putting it off for ages on the grounds it would probably be a disaster but actually it couldn’t have been much easier. I suspect it might happen more often in future… 😉

  5. Another great review and I can’t recall reading this one at all! It does sound a tad over-complicated though but good to realise Ellie started getting to know the ‘real’ Daziel this early in the series, for some reason I thought it was much later on.

    • It’s such a long series it’s easy to have missed one or two, especially the older ones. It’s a good one though despite the fact that it all got a bit “huh?” in the end – especially seeing Ellie’s relationships with both Pascoe and Dalziel beginning to take shape.

  6. Do you ever worry that you will get trapped in a series, or are you good a stopping when you are no longer enjoying yourself? I pretty much never start a connected series because I feel obligated to finish them; it’s worse if the series has a HUGE plot arc, something like Harry Potter. Devoting myself to that many thousands of pages to see what happens in the end would set me off like a poorly packed firework!

    • I’m pretty good at stopping if a series begins to bore me. There are very few series which I’ve read completely in fact – it’s the main reason I prefer books that work as standalones with recurring characters, rather than a running story arc in the background. I did read and enjoy HP, but most of them had a complete story as well as the running one – except for book 6, which read like a 600 page prequel to book 7!

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