Child’s Play (Dalziel and Pascoe 9) by Reginald Hill

Gruff of Sodding Greendale…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

During the funeral of Gwendoline Huby, a stranger appears and then just as suddenly disappears again. Could this be the long lost son Mrs Huby had always hoped would one day return? Alexander Huby had gone missing in Italy in WW2 and, although the authorities and his father accepted that he had been killed in action, Mrs Huby never would. Now the rich old lady has complicated matters by leaving her wealth to her missing son, much to the annoyance of her extended family and of the three charities who will eventually get the money, but not until either many years have passed or Alexander is proved dead. There’s no mystery about Mrs Huby’s death – she died of old age. But when the funereal stranger turns up dead too not long after, Dalziel and Pascoe must confirm if he was indeed the missing son, and find out which of the other beneficiaries might have decided to cut short the wait for their inheritance. Meantime, Wieldy’s secret is in danger – a young man has turned up claiming to be the friend of Wield’s former lover, Maurice, and is threatening to tell the local papers that there is a gay man serving in the Mid Yorks CID.

Good grief! It seems so odd now that the idea of being outed as gay would have effectively ended Wield’s career as recently as 1986, but indeed I vividly remember the salacious outrage of the press whenever a police officer or anyone in a prominent position was found to be gay, and the vicious outing of people who were not ready to be outed into a society where homophobia was still legally sanctioned. Seems to me from memory that the public was way ahead of the authorities and the press on this one – actual people didn’t seem much to care, not ones of my generation anyway. Hill handles the issue with his usual compassion and sense of truth – Wield is a figure of neither fun nor pity, though we feel for him in his dilemma over whether to out himself before the press does it for him. This bit of the storyline also deepens the characterisation of Dalziel, letting us see a different side to him which he normally keeps well hidden behind his uncouth, strictly non-PC persona.

The actual murder plot is very good, with plenty of suspects all with strong motives. Mrs Huby’s family are a quirky bunch, from aspiring and not very good actor Rod, to little Lexie, whose diminutive form and quiet manner cover a steely determination to get what she wants out of life, to Lexie’s dad, John Huby, the comic relief whose dreams of a big inheritance have been shattered on learning that all he’d been left was Mrs Huby’s favourite dog, long ago deceased and stuffed, and known as Gruff of Greendale. There are also the representatives of the three charities and Mrs. Huby’s forbidding Danvers-like housekeeper-cum-companion, Miss Keach. Hill often has one of his regulars take the forefront with the others in the background, but in this one, Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield all have important roles, giving it added pleasure for me since all three are such great characters.

I listened to the audiobook version – my second experience of Colin Buchanan narrating. I must say that none of the issues I had with the last book troubled me this time – his Yorkshire accents sounded more Yorkshire, his Dalziel seemed more in tune with how I’d expect Dalziel to sound, and he doesn’t seem to race through the narration at quite the same speed. I don’t know whether it was really better or if I’ve just got used to his style, but either way I enjoyed his performance considerably more in this one.

Reginald Hill

By this point Hill is beginning to play with light-hearted literary references, as he would do more and more as the series progresses, and this one is presented as a three-act tragicomedy. The underlying story is quite dark and Wieldy’s dilemma certainly has an air of tragedy, but overall I find this one quite light in tone, with a lot of humour in it. Again in terms of plot it would work fine as a standalone, but knowing the three lead characters from the earlier books makes the interactions between them more satisfying. As always with this series, highly recommended.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

44 thoughts on “Child’s Play (Dalziel and Pascoe 9) by Reginald Hill

  1. I think you can get used to narrators, but I also find I pay more attention to small irritations in the narration if the book isn’t that captivating. Not surprised about your rating, glad you enjoyed it!

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    • Yes, I don’t notice the narrator so much if the book’s grabbing me too, but in general I find I’m very picky about the narrators – quite often listening to the sample is enough to let me know I couldn’t tolerate a whole book! But when both narrator and book are great, then it’s a wonderful experience… 😀

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  2. “I vividly remember the salacious outrage of the press whenever a police officer or anyone in a prominent position was found to be gay”–I remember this back in the day as well, particularly when Rock Hudson came out.

    I’m not surprised that this book is highly rated, because it is a Dalziel and Pascoe novel. 😄

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    • Haha, I remember telling my sister I was devastated when George Michael came out, and she thought I’d gone all homophobic till I explained it just meant my dream of a passionate love affair with him seemed even less likely than before… 😉

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  3. Oh, I’ve always liked the way that Dalziel handles the situation with Wield, FictionFan. It reallyi does show a side of him that we don’t usually get to see. You make an interesting point here about the difference between the way ‘regular’ people thought about being gay, and how the press, etc., reacted. That’s a really interesting point, and I think it’s true here, too. At any rate, I like the mystery itself here, too – it’s one of Hill’s better efforts.

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    • Yes, I think it’s at that point that he becomes really likeable and from then it always feels as if he’s got a good heart underneath all his non-PC awfulness! Our press still tends to get outraged by lots of things I feel the public doesn’t much care about – I suppose they have to sell papers somehow! But they did wreck a lot of lives at that time by outing people who weren’t ready to be outed, I think.

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  4. I have the first in this series on my wishlist so I really should get started on it someday. I’ll certainly keep in mind what I know you’ve said about them just getting better and better. I always give a debut novel (and sometimes the second) a bit of leeway, especially when I know others love the series.

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  5. I suppose this adds to the body of proof that, if anybody dies with a bit of money, the greedy hands start extending and wanting their fair share! Die with merely two nickels to rub together, and nobody bothers. Sounds like an interesting read, FF, one you enjoyed a lot. Outstanding review.

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    • This series is well worth adding to your pile, and any of these earlier ones work as standalones, although knowing the characters adds something too. I always liked that he tackled the ‘isms without ever getting too preachy about it – he made it seem normal to be a female cop, or a gay one, or a black one, at a time when society hadn’t quite got there yet.

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  6. The 80s was a terrible time for a gay person to come out because of the Aids/HIV stigma. If not for that society’s ideas (or the media’s) might have changed much more quickly. I seem to remember before that time that gay people in the arts particularly were more open about their sexuality than in the past. Wield’s storyline was a big one for the author to have taken on.

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    • Yes, some of the rhetoric around Aids – the suggestion it was some kind of punishment for being gay – was pretty horrific. This one was set slightly before that, I think. You’re right about there being more openness in the arts, but in the more regimented jobs or the more “manly” ones, I think most gay men just kept a discreet silence about their lives outside work. That’s what I like about Hill – he took these subjects on and never made his characters stereotypes. Wieldy’s still one of the best gay characters in fiction, in my opinion…

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  7. A really knowledgeable review FF. Reg has been a favourite of mine for over 30 years. Although I have to admit that it has been a while since I read him. Some commentors regard Hill as providing a literary take on British society ifrom the 70s onward. He covers the big issues …. as you say, attitudes to the gay community, and of course, the role of woman, the working class need for escape from humdrum of conformity etc. The Miners strike was a key episode. One of his great strengths was the variety of perspectives. He made one understand and feel for his different characters.

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    • Thank you – glad to hear from another fan! I’ve loved these books for decades too – I used to buy each new one on publication day and devour it, and then have to start the long wait again for the next one. I’ve re-read many of them often, but randomly, so this time I’m working my way through the series in order and really noticing his commentary on society, more I think than I did at the time, when these events and social changes were actually happening. I love Wieldy as a character – I still think he’s the least caricatured of any gay fictional police officer I’ve come across, which is doubly impressive considering when the books were written. My favourite crime series ever!

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  8. I am also enjoying this series (on your recommendation!) and working my way through from the start, mostly with audio versions. The next one I read will be #6. I’m looking forward to reading Child’s Play eventually. It’s a pleasure to be entertained and also enjoy thoughtful and well-written stories, with some embedded literary gems.

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