A Killing Kindness (Dalziel and Pascoe 6) by Reginald Hill

To thine own self be true…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Sergeant Wield visits the mother of murder victim Brenda Sorby, he finds that Mrs Sorby has called in gypsy clairvoyant Rosetta Stanhope to try to contact her dead daughter. Politely, Wield listens in, but when the local press get hold of the story it is blown up as the police having called in a psychic because they’re baffled, and Superintendent Dalziel is not pleased! The press have a point, though – Brenda is the third apparent victim of the murderer the press have dubbed the Choker and the police are indeed baffled. There seems no obvious connection between the victims, and while the first two were carefully laid out by the murderer, poor Brenda was found dumped in the local canal. However, all three women were strangled, and after each murder the local paper received an anonymous phonecall quoting a line from Hamlet. Then, as Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield search for leads, a fourth murder takes place…

The thing I love about this series is how it evolves over time, both in terms of the recurring characters, and in the quality of the plotting. This one dates from 1980, a full decade after the first book and a decade that saw the beginning of lots of changes in social attitudes. Hill could have simply changed the characters of his two leads as many writers tried to do with varying degrees of success. But instead he allows them to grow and adapt. At this point, Dalziel remains the rude, boorish, foul-mouthed dinosaur, but Pascoe, now married to the feminist Ellie, has matured into a semi-decent bloke, who might still expect his dinner to be on the table when he gets home but isn’t too put out when it’s left for him in the oven instead, while Ellie is off out with her feminist friends. For the early ‘80s, this almost counted as being a New Man! Even Dalziel will gradually reveal that most of his boorishness is an act and that he might be even more advanced than Pascoe in his heart. Dalziel doesn’t care if his officers are male or female, gay or straight, white or black – he’s equally rude and offensive to them all, but they can count on his total support should anyone else try to mess with them.

Having brought Ellie in a few books earlier to counterbalance the sexism and boost the feminist angle, in this one Hill brings Wieldy to the fore. I can’t say definitively that Wield is the first sympathetic depiction of a gay policeman in mainstream British crime fiction, but he’s certainly the first I came across and it was pretty astounding at the time. Especially since the portrayal of him is so good – not in any way stereotyped, not suggesting that being gay makes him weak or feminine or “perverted” or any of the other negative characteristics that fictional gay people were so often given at that period. Wield is a normal guy who happens to be gay. For younger people used to that kind of portrayal of gay people, it’s hard to explain how revolutionary it seemed back in the day. And the joy is that Wieldy is so easy to like! Again, I have no evidence that Wield changed perceptions of homosexuality in Hill’s readership but I’d be amazed if he didn’t. He’s one example of the way Hill constantly pushed at the boundaries, but subtly and with warmth and humour, rather than beating the reader over the head with polemics and “messages”.

Reginald Hill

The plot in this one is excellent – probably the first in the series where I felt Hill got it completely right. It’s complex and convincing, and dark. While it involves the murder of young women, it avoids the salaciousness and voyeurism that often accompanies that, and the killer’s motivation is original. I’m desperately trying to avoid anything which could be a spoiler, so I’ll simply say that the motivation aspect gives the book the psychological depth that became a trademark of Hill’s work as the series developed. That’s what makes Dalziel and Pascoe such a good team – Dalziel knows how to bully evidence out of the unwilling, but Pascoe knows how to use empathy and understanding to tease out the reason for the crimes.

When I first read this series, it was around this book that I first joined in and I must say I’d recommend it as a good starting point to people coming to the series fresh. While all the books are readable, there’s no doubt the very early ones feel a little dated now, and not as polished, whereas this one stands up very well to modern eyes, I think. I found that I was more forgiving of the sexism in the earlier ones when I backtracked to them after learning to love the characters once they had become more developed, and from this point on the series just gets better and better. There are twenty-four of them in total, so if you haven’t already read them, you really ought to make a start soon – they get my highest recommendation!

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40 thoughts on “A Killing Kindness (Dalziel and Pascoe 6) by Reginald Hill

  1. I find this series a great companion for sessions in the gym. Problem is that I get the audio versions via the free library service so there are often long wait lists and you end up reading whatever you can get – out of sequence. Which means it’s harder to se the changes in attitudes and characters you describe.

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  2. That’s what I love most about series, the evolving characters and plot lines. The Cole and Pike series by Robert Crais is a great example, the first book having been written in the 1980s.

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  3. This line from your review: ‘… Dalziel doesn’t care if his officers are male or female, gay or straight, white or black – he’s equally rude and offensive to them all, but they can count on his total support should anyone else try to mess with them.’ says it best, FictionFan. And I completely agree with you that these characters evolve over time, and that makes them all the more interesting. What I like, too, is that it is a real evolution. It’s not a magical transformation that I would find so much harder to believe. I think it helps to read the series in order, but this is one reason that I always say the later books are better.

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    • Yes, I think that’s why I love Dalziel despite his awfulness – somehow he never feels like a proper bully because he bullies everybody equally and doesn’t let anyone else bully them! I’m enjoying reading them in order this time round and seeing the evolution, but I do wonder if the very early books might put some new readers off – they’re definitely not quite as good and have a lot of outdated language and attitudes that he seemed to drop by about the fourth book… I wonder if that’s when he got married… 😉

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  4. I had to laugh that the detective being okay with his dinner kept in the oven while his wife went out was a sign of progress. But I know what you mean, a lot has changed in a relatively short amount of time.

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    • Haha – I know! When I first read these I thought Pascoe really was a lovely modern man – now he seems not far evolved from Neanderthal! But he continues to improve as the series progresses and by the end he’s quite likely to be doing the cooking and cleaning while Ellie writes her novels… 😀

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  5. I do like the sounds of this series-and yet another example of a mystery writer improving with practice! haa

    Like Karissa, I LOL’d at the thought of a man ‘being ok with dinner in the oven’ 🙂

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    • Hill’s a great example of a style developing over the years – by the end of the series they had really become as much lit-fic as crime, and he never got into a rut. Haha – I know! But Pascoe did continue to develop over the years and by the end he’d have been just as likely to be doing the cooking as Ellie – she trained him well… 😉

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  6. Well, it stands to reason that characters in a series really should change over time, doesn’t it? Still, some don’t. And of those, some are glad at the familiarity of the characters, but I’d guess most prefer characters to be fleshed-out a bit and evolving as times change. Glad to hear this one is like that. Now, I’ll have to find a copy and see what I’ve been missing!

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    • The odd thing is that characters in a series developing was really unusual back then – look at Poirot or Miss Marple, or James Bond. I think Hill and Ian Rankin were two of the first British crime writers to make their characters grow and change as society changed them around them, and I think that’s partly why I loved them both so much back in the day. If you do try these, I hope you enjoy them! 😀

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  7. It’s years since I’ve read any of these, and I don’t remember this one. It sounds great though, so I’ll certainly track it down. The portrayal of the gay character sounds particularly refreshing, as to be honest, there are still some pretty dodgy stereotypes around the portrayal of gay people in some contemporary fiction. Hill was obviously quite progressive and forward thinking for the time.

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    • Yes, I think his portrayal of Wield is remarkable even today – sympathetic and very real and never stereotyped. I loved that he became one of the major characters as the series progressed, so that we saw him come “out” and how attitudes around him gradually changed. Hill always seemed to be a very private person so I’ve never found many interviews and so on, but I’ve always wondered if Wieldy and Ellie were based on real people he knew – both are such wonderfully convincing creations. Hope you manage to track this one down!

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    • This really is a great series, Jennifer – I’m sure you’d enjoy them if you ever manage to try some. I suspect he’s been very influential on the last few decades of crime writers over here.

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    • Wieldy gradually became my favourite of them all! I’m enjoying reading them in order this time round – you can really see Hill developing as a writer as he goes along.

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    • Wieldy eventually became my favourite character in the books too. I’m always a fan of jumping into series around the fourth or fifth book once the author’s got into their stride. I quite often find the first books are weak and that can put me off the whole series if I start there…

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