An April Shroud (Dalziel and Pascoe 4) by Reginald Hill

In which Dalziel becomes human…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Following newly-minted-Inspector Peter Pascoe’s wedding to Ellie Soper, Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel sets off on a little holiday. His plan is to drive around the countryside hoping to find enough of interest to keep him occupied, but in reality he’s feeling a little lost and even lonely. Peter’s wedding has brought home to him his own lack of family, and he’s reached as high as he’s likely to go in his career. But his plans are put on hold when April showers turn into a veritable flood and his car becomes waterlogged. Rescued by a family returning from a funeral, he goes with them to their home, Lake House, to dry off and phone a garage. But the combination of an intriguing death in the family and the friendly charms of the remarkably cheerful widow persuade him to prolong his visit…

One of the things that always kept this series fresh was that Hill regularly changed the focus among the various characters. In this one, Andy gets his first solo outing. Peter makes token appearances at the beginning and end but plays no real part in the story. This gives Hill the chance to let the reader get to know Andy from the inside – prior to this we’d really always seen him through someone else’s eyes, usually Peter’s.

Although I grew very fond of all the major characters – Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy, Novello – Dalziel was always the one I enjoyed most. He’s such an intriguing mix of brash, uncouth Yorkshireman – a big, loud, crude, bullying brute of a man – and well-hidden sensitivity: a man who might use blatantly offensive homophobic terms, but will defend his gay colleagues at a time when that was highly unusual; who can be hideously sexist in the language he uses to women, but who respects their intelligence and strength far more than many of his politically correct colleagues; who is no respecter of class, but who uses his own mostly artificial veneer of uncultured boorishness as a blunt weapon to dominate any company he’s in, from the rugby club to the manor house.

This is the book where we really begin to see him as more than a caricature. As he finds himself drawn towards the widow, Bonnie, he gets sucked into a moral quagmire largely of his own making. The police have investigated the death of Conrad Fielding and have reluctantly concluded it was an accident, despite the fact that the insurance claim on his death will come in very handy for the rest of the household. Lake House is costly to live in and too run-down to let, so the family have come up with a scheme to convert part of it into a mock-Medieval Banqueting Hall. But funding has run out and bankruptcy looms unless the insurance money comes through in time for them to finish the work on the place before the scheduled opening in a couple of weeks’ time. As Andy gets to know the family better, he has to decide whether to share what he learns about them with the local police or keep his suspicions to himself. It’s not as if he knows anything for sure…

Reginald Hill

Hill also has fun with the characters in the house, from the elderly poet Hereward, about to be given an award he feels he should have been given years ago when young enough to enjoy it, to the budding film-maker who augments his income by taking the kind of girlie photos that show up in the less respectable kind of magazine, to the Woosterish young man who wants nothing more than to punt on the lake, shooting ducks. The widow herself is a typically wonderful Hill woman – strong, intelligent, generous, quite possibly wicked, definitely ambiguous. A Yorkshire femme fatale. Is she attracted to Andy for his innate charm and manly physique? Even Andy is doubtful about that. Or is she using him as protection from the interest of the local police?

The mystery itself becomes more complicated when more bodies begin to show up in unexpected places. Accidents? Murders? Connected or coincidental? Andy will eventually work it all out, but then he’ll still have to decide what to do about it. And meantime, the inaugural Medieval Banquet grows ever closer…

Lots of humour as always, but in this one Hill gives us the first real indication of how the series will develop in terms of depth of characterisation and the complicated relationship between our two main players, Dalziel and Pascoe. And in this one, for the first time, we begin to see that Andy is human too, with all the vulnerabilities and sensitivities he so successfully hides from the world. As always, highly recommended – the best detective series of all time!

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34 thoughts on “An April Shroud (Dalziel and Pascoe 4) by Reginald Hill

  1. You do such an excellent job describing Dalziel, FictionFan! And you’ve outlined exactly the reasons I like his character so well. It’s easy enough to lose patience with his boorishness. But he is a lot more complex than that, and that was exactly Hill’s genius with is character, if I can put it that way.

    • Thanks, Margot! 😀 Yes, it takes a lot of skill to create a character that by all rights should be really unattractive, and yet make him likeable. I always loved the way Ellie tried to dislike him, but couldn’t help growing fond of him despite herself…

    • I love Wieldy too, and I loved how Hill gradually brought him “out” long before most crime series would have dared to have a sympathetic gay character. If Pictures of Perfection is the Enscombe one, then I agree it’s one of the very best. On Beulah Height is my overall favourite though – I really think it moves into literary fiction territory. 😀

  2. A brilliant review and you’ve hit the nail on the head on how the series gained something special from the ever changing focus of the main character and also how much depth Dalziel has – the comments about his sexism are a case in point he was anti PC before it became a term!

    I was hoping this was one of the ones I had on the TBR but sadly not… definitely one to seek out.

    • Thank you! 😀 I’m loving reading them in order this time round, and seeing how he brought the various characters forward. Ellie’s still a bit part at this stage, and Wieldy hasn’t even arrived yet, and yet they both became essential characters by the end. But Dalziel is still the cuddliest… 😉

    • I bet it does – they were always a favourite in my library. When I become Queen of the World, I shall make a law that everyone must read them, so you might as well make an early start… 😉

  3. As usual, a very well written, articulate and enjoyable review. I remember half-watching the TV episode, but your description of the book makes me want to try the series from the start in preference.

    • Thank you! 😀 I did enjoy the TV shows, mainly because I liked Warren Clarke. But I never thought they were a patch on the novels really – they were too restricted by having to always concentrate on Dalziel and Pascoe whereas the books are more wide-ranging as to who the lead character is, especially later in the series when he got quite innovative. They start off as well written but fairly standard, but half way through the series turns in to something much deeper – I felt the later ones could definitely be classed as literary fiction…

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