Under World (Dalziel and Pascoe 10) by Reginald Hill

Digging deep…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Colin Farr is an angry young man. When young Tracy Pedley vanished some years earlier in the woods around the Yorkshire mining town of Burrthorpe, the townspeople held Colin’s father responsible. Some felt he must have killed her, others that his carelessness led to her disappearance – he had taken the little girl out for a walk and his story was that he then let her return the last part of the journey alone, and she was never seen again. The police, however, blamed a different man but that didn’t stop the gossip, and Colin’s father died in an accident that may or may not have been suicide. Now the cop who was in charge of the case back then has retired and is serialising his memoirs in the local paper, bringing the old story back to the surface and Colin’s anger back to boiling point. And then someone dies down the mine…

The story is set a couple of years after the Miner’s Strike of 1984, while memories are fresh and scars not yet healed. The miners hate the bosses and the feeling is mutual, and those who scabbed during the strike have not been forgiven. But the biggest divide is between the miners and the police, who were used by a heavy-handed government to break the strike, often violently. Hill works all these resentments through his plot, giving the book a real feel for the period and for how devastating the strike and its aftermath were for the mining communities. Although the mine at Burrthorpe is still working, the writing is on the wall for the whole British mining industry and the miners know their way of life is coming to an end. Not that it’s a good way of life – the work is hard and dangerous, and many men who manage to avoid accidents are still struck down by the deadly lung diseases that come with breathing in coal-dust down the pits. But it’s a life that has developed strong ties of community, where trust is an essential component of the job – one careless worker could put everyone in danger.

Another aspect of the strike that Hill uses very effectively is the coming together of the women – the miners’ wives and mothers, struggling to hold their families together with no income, taking on the role of breadwinner sometimes, dealing with the mental health problems and domestic violence that grew in correlation with the desperation (and, in their own eyes, emasculation) of the men. The women built support networks, campaigned for their men and begged for their children, and showed a level of strength and resilience that fed into the wider story of women’s demands to be treated as equals.

As is often the case with Hill, the plot is somewhat secondary to the social aspects and to the further development of the recurring characters in his team. Although it’s a bleak story, Dalziel always adds an element of humour, and his rough uncouthness appeals much more to the miners than Pascoe’s sympathetic attempts to understand their point of view. Dalziel is of them, so understands them naturally, and they him.

Ellie Pascoe, still struggling to finish her novel, takes a part-time job giving classes to the miners and finds herself drawn to the troubled Colin, partly because he shows he has an intelligence she, in her middle-class way, doesn’t expect to find in a miner, and partly becoming attracted to his overt physical masculinity despite her feminist disdain. Ellie doesn’t come out of this novel well – she behaves like a spoilt privileged child and becomes intensely annoying, to the point where it’s hard to understand what Peter Pascoe could possibly like about her. She settles back down a little in future books, but this is not one of her better outings. However, later in the book she comes to know the women of the Burrthorpe support group and has enough self-awareness to recognise that they roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done, rather than pontificating about women’s rights from a lofty academic height. What always redeems Ellie is her willingness to recognise her own faults.

Reginald Hill

Hill gives a very authentic feel to what it was like to work in a mine at that time – the physical demands, the danger, the safety protocols, the reliance on each other. He also shows the do-gooder element of society, visiting the mine in order to get a vicarious thrill, so they can then go off and make political points in their nice clean safe council chambers and middle-class restaurants. The climax of the novel happens below ground, in a tense and thrilling finale which more than makes up for the rather too obvious solution to the central mystery.

Another fine outing for Dalziel and Pascoe, and one of the most realistic pictures of the post-strike-era mining communities I’ve come across in fiction. I listened to the audiobook with Colin Buchanan reading, and now that I’ve got used to his voices for the characters, I enjoy his narrations.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link – sorry, doesn’t seem to be available on the US site. Here’s a link to the Kindle version instead.

38 thoughts on “Under World (Dalziel and Pascoe 10) by Reginald Hill

  1. It sounds like a very interesting book. I do not know much about the miner strikes, so it’s just the kind of book I would enjoy reading to find out about a topic before reading non-fiction. Sadly I don’t have time right now, as I’ve already added a book on my to-read list today and I also borrowed quite a few for my studies… also today.

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    • The strike was such a pivotal turning point for those of us who lived through it, even if we had no connection to the mining communities. I’ve read lots of fictional books about it but never any actual history, except what’s been included in various political memoirs of the period. Haha, acquiring books is so much easier than getting through them, isn’t it? 😉

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  2. I agree, FIctionFan, that this one gives a great depiction of the mining life. I’ve never been in that industry myself, but Hill does give you the feel that you’re there, doesn’t he? I’m glad you mentioned the women of the town, too. They were the unsung heroines of those mining towns, as they have been in so many other mining regions. And I think Hill draws their characters well here. There’s a whole sense of atmosphere, too, in the story, that adds to it. I could go on, but I don’t want to clutter up your comment area. This is a good ‘un!

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    • I’ve had no direct connection with the miners here either, although as a strong union activist at the time, we were all in support of the miners’ unions (the story, I’ve discovered over time, was less clear cut than I thought in my youthful zeal at the time) and we went on several marches with them and so on, and my own union called us out in sympathy at some points, so it all feels quite vivid to me. And the women’s support groups changed the face of feminism here for a decade or two, making it more about action than theory, if that makes sense. So it’s great that Hill gives them a prominent place in the novel alongside the miners themselves… 😀

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  3. Your obvious enjoyment of this one shines through in your review — thanks, FF. It’s one I haven’t come across, but I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a copy. I sure wouldn’t want to be a miner, though (or, for that matter, a miner’s wife!)

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    • No, it was odd that people fought so hard to keep such a hard and dirty industry for so long, but the opportunities for other good-paying jobs just weren’t there at the time. I know there are parts of the States that are going through similar changes now. I think you’d enjoy Hill’s books if you ever get a chance to read them… 😀

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  4. I have so many new-to-me series that I want to read, including this one! I cannot imagine being a miner, whether underground or in an open pit! (or being in a submarine!)

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    • I think you’d love this one – have I mentioned it’s my favourite crime series of all time? 😉 Ha, nor me – I’m terrified of going underground or underwater – brings on claustrophobia just thinking about it! One of the detectives in this, Peter Pascoe, felt much the same way…

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  5. I’ve been meaning to read Reginald Hill for years and have had one of his for at least ten years. This one sounds really good. We had moved to Fife in the early 1980s so at times got caught up in the miners strike. Once my husband was stopped from getting to work as he was car sharing with other male teachers. The police assumed they were going to picket a mine. The atmosphere was toxic.

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    • It’s such a great series – I’m sure you’d enjoy it! I wasn’t living in a mining area at the time, but I was a strong union activist in the NHS, and we came out in sympathy a couple of times, and went on marches with the miners’ unions, so it all seems like a vivid part of my own life somehow. The aftereffects of it still linger, don’t they? It was such a divisive time.

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    • Yes, definitely in a different class to The Port of London Murders! That’s what makes Hill so good – despite the serious social stuff and the often dark plots, there’s always plenty of humour too – he never forgot that first and foremost crime fiction is supposed to be entertaining! 😀

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  6. These novels seem to be as much a tour through the UK’s modern history and life as they are a crime or thriller. It’s fascinating to read other people’s comments about the impact of the times in this book on their own lives.

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    • They really are, and because he was writing them while I was at my most politically active, they take me right back to my youth! I wasn’t part of a mining community, but I was a strong union activist in the NHS at the time, and we supported the miners’ union, raised money for the women’s groups, and joined them on marches and so on, so it all feels vividly like part of my own history. Such an important event in modern British history – it changed our society completely, and arguments still continue as to the rights and wrongs of it all.

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        • Maybe the BLM protests will feel as important to this generation when they look back, but in general I do think young people have become less politically aware. Or, maybe they’re more aware of specific issues, like MeToo, but not of the wider politics of economic systems and so on? It seems to me we paid more attention to the big picture and less to being outraged about individual incidents. But maybe I’m simply out of touch with the youth of today!

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            • Yes, I agree. Although a lot of younger people are interested in climate change, it seems to me far more are just ignoring the subject. I still think it will have to be the scientists that solve that one for us, and I do think we’re making progress – just not sure it’s fast enough…

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  7. It is such a pleasure to read writing with intelligence and knowledge behind it. I’m looking forward to reaching this book in the series with all it has to offer in story, writing and context. The social action of our younger years does leave strong memory traces doesn’t it. I suppose it’s the potent combination of a sense of justice denied and youthful passion.

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    • He really was a step above most of his contemporaries, and as the books progressed and he tackled more social stuff they really become more like literary fiction than crime, even though they remain police procedurals throughout. Yes, it’s odd though how we see things through a different lens when we look back. I’m no longer as sure as I was at the time that the miners’ unions were in the right. I suspect the miners were as much victims of their own unions as of the government. Plus, devastating though it was to see the mining industry destroyed, forty years on it means we can move to clean energy without the major job losses some countries face – because we already lost them. Unintended consequences…

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  8. I am very fond of this series by Reginald Hill. I have only read 13 of the books and I don’t know why I haven’t read more of them in the last few years. I have all the books in the series, and some in the Joe Sixsmith series and a few of the standalone novels. I agree with you on Ellie Pascal and especially in this novel. But she serves a purpose.

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    • For years I read them on the day they came out and I’ve re-read each of them more than once. But this is the first time I’ve read the series in order and it’s fun to see how the characters develop over time. Ellie always annoyed me, although I felt she was mostly very realistic as a feminist of her time. I loved the Joe Sixsmith books too, but somehow was never so keen on his standalones – not sure why. I think his style seems to suit recurring characters better…

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    • Yes, looking back it was probably just about the most significant political event in Britain of the second half of last century. And I think that shows in how often it crops up in fiction even yet. It’s still a divisive subject too. Although writers usually give the impression that everyone was on the side of the miners’ unions that wasn’t really true – lots of people felt the power of the big unions had to be broken. After all, the same government got re-elected in a landslide just a couple of years later. The miners themselves may have been victims of their own unions as much as of the government, with hindsight.

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      • Strikes and unions are always complicated, I guess. I’ve lived through a few local ones though nothing on the dramatic scale of the miners strike. I find a lot of people might be pro-union in a general sort of way but the way they vote doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

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        • Yes, it’s the same here. And back then the unions really had far too much power and used it too politically – they’d kinda forgotten that they were really there to get the best pay and conditions for their members. Now it’s swung the other way here, and the unions probably have too little power…

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  9. This sounds really interesting. The Dalziel and Pascoe novels have been on my TBR for a long time, but I’m a bit intimidated because there are so many of them. Do you think they need to be read in order, or would this be a suitable place to start?

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    • I think most of the early ones can stand alone, but a few of the later ones depend on the reader knowing the earlier books. When I first read them, I started in the middle and worked back and then forward, and they worked fine for me that way…

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  10. I remember you reviewing this author’s books in the past, and the social aspect along with the mysteries seems like a selling point for both you and me-it definitely adds more texture to a mystery, especially when the mystery is easily solvable! I also like when authors draw characters that recognize their own flaws, it feels very redeeming for the reader too.

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    • Hill was always great for working the social aspects of the day into his stories without ever becoming too message-y, if you know what I mean. The fact that we were on the same wavelength politically helped, I’m sure, though he was good at showing both sides. Ellie is a great character – she’s not particularly likeable but she is very much her own person rather than just Peter’s wife, which was quite unusual back then…

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