Bones and Silence (Dalziel and Pascoe 11) by Reginald Hill

Playing God…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Bones and SilenceWhen Dalziel looks out of his window at the house opposite, he sees two men, one woman and a gun. He rushes over but by the time he gets there the woman is dead and the two men are adamant that she shot herself despite their attempts to prevent her. Dalziel doesn’t believe it – he saw the gun in the hand of one of the men. However when Pascoe arrives he’s less convinced – Dalziel has been drinking and how reliable is his evidence? Meantime, preparations are underway for a community performance of The York Mystery Plays, and the artistic director Eileen Chung thinks that Dalziel will be perfect to play the part of God. For the Devil, she wants to cast local builder Philip Swain – the widower of the dead woman and the man Dalziel claims was holding the gun…

For me, this is one of the very best in this great series not so much because of the murder plot, but because of the two side plots. Eileen Chung is a wonderful character, like Andy himself larger than life, glowing with self-confidence, and able to manipulate those around her to do as she wants. She is the focus of the lustful thoughts of most of the men she meets, and knows it, but women are also drawn to her by her kindness. Those in trouble especially seem to find a kind of strength simply from being in her company. Andy and she are like the two greatest gladiators in the arena, battling for supremacy, and it’s not at all clear who will win. Andy agrees to play God but Chung is going to discover that God has his own ideas about how his role should be performed!

The other side plot concerns anonymous letters Dalziel is receiving, probably from a woman, who tells him she plans to kill herself. She doesn’t want him to do anything about it – in fact she’s relying on him not to. She simply feels she wants to tell someone of her intention, and has picked on him as a kind of confessor because she believes his brashness means he won’t feel any responsibility when she dies. And Andy is indeed brash and believes that people are responsible for their own actions. But he passes the letters on to Pascoe, and Pascoe cares, perhaps too much. So while he is investigating the death of Gail Swain, Pascoe is also keeping an eye out for any woman who seems as if she may be at the end of her tether.

The three major characters are all given great parts in this ensemble piece – Dalziel, Pascoe and Wieldy, who by this point has become as essential to the series as the other two. Ellie, after her last outing when she really had taken her feminist stridency too far, to the point where it was endangering her relationship with Peter, has dialled back a bit for this one, becoming again the feisty but good-natured Ellie of old. But there are also lots of very well-drawn secondary characters in this one – Chung, of course, but also dried-up but still lustful Canon Horncastle, whose permission Chung needs to use the Cathedral grounds for her play, and his downtrodden wife, whom Chung quietly sets out to rescue. Philip Swain is one of Hill’s ambiguous possible villains/possible victims, and his secretary, Shirley Appleyard, defies her stolid appearance by having a razor-sharp mind, a tongue to match, and a predilection for discussing classic literature with Peter.

reginald hill
Reginald Hill

This one also has one of the most memorable climaxes of the whole series. The first time I read it I was shocked to my socks, and still find it intensely affecting even after multiple re-reads. I’m not sure that Hill wholly convinces me psychologically, but dramatically and literarily it’s superb. Is that intriguing enough for you to want to read it? I hope so! Although these books do all work better if you’ve read some of the earlier ones and become emotionally attached to the regulars, most of them work very well as standalones too, and this one does, I think. Hill is at the height of his powers by this point of the series, able to juggle humour, drama, pathos and tragedy seamlessly to give a full-colour panoramic view of his characters and the society they inhabit. As always, highly recommended!

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31 thoughts on “Bones and Silence (Dalziel and Pascoe 11) by Reginald Hill

    • Eileen Chung is one of his most memorable characters, I think – she really ought to be unlikeable because she’s wildly extroverted and self-confident, and yet everyone loves her, including the reader!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure I say this every time but because the first couple have dated quite a lot I do think this is a series that works better if you jump in a bit later and then work back once you’ve grown to like the characters.

      Liked by 1 person

    • By this stage he really had hit the heights that make this series so special. The early books are a bit dated, and the later ones really work best if you already know and love the characters, but these middle ones are great for fans or newcomers alike!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This does sound excellent, the sub-plot about Eileen Chung and the production of the York Mystery Plays is especially intriguing. I might use this as a means of returning to this series, as I lost touch with it a few books in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These middle ones are by far the best in the series as far as I’m concerned. The early ones are a bit dated now and the later ones rely on the reader knowing the characters well, but the middle ones are great for fans or relative newcomers alike. Unfortunately the narrator of this one and the next, Brian Glover, gets pretty poor reviews. After that Colin Buchanan pops back briefly and then Jonathan Keeble takes over. Don’t know why Colin Buchanan stopped doing them.

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  2. That’s the thing about this series, FictionFan, at least in my opinion. Hill was so good at creating characters! Whether they’re regulars, like Wieldy, or just one-offs, they’re memorable. For me, I can forgive a mystery plot that might not be the very best if the characters are interesting and engaging, and Hill doesn’t disappoint. And I do like it that he allowed characters to grow and change and get stronger (or fade) over time, as people do. It’s not easy to do that believably, but he did.

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    • Ching is definitely one of the most memorable as far as I’m concerned, and the two other “side” women in this are great too, Mrs Hardcastle and young Shirley Appleyard. I’m coming to the conclusion that I prefer the sub-plots and side stories to the actual main plots, which I quite often find I don’t remember nearly as clearly as all the other stuff that goes on around them. And these middle books are him at this real peak – great stuff!

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  3. “Shocked to your socks”!!! That’s quite the high praise, being shocked by a book is so delicious that’s definitely caught my attention. After reading so much I find it terribly difficult to be shocked by anything in terms of plot devices, so I’m very excited about this!

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    • This one still shocks me even though I know what’s going to happen – I think he took a real risk with it, and it pays off! The books are great at mixing humour with real drama and tragedy – they could never be called cosies but they manage to be truly entertaining.

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  4. Count me in! This sounds most interesting. I’m going to have to try getting my hands on some of these since you’re making them out to be so outstanding. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Like most of the other people commenting, your reviews of this series always make me think I should start it! It’s a bit intimidating with so many books, but I’ve nearly finished the Hugh Fraser Christie audiobooks, so maybe I can start using my monthly audible credit for these instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most of these are great as audiobooks – Colin Buchanan narrates all the early ones, and once I got used to his “voice” for Dalziel I thought he was excellent. Unfortunately then a couple of them, including this one, are narrated by Brian Glover, and he gets very poor ratings on Audible so I’ve reverted to paper for them. But after that Jonathan Keeble takes over, and he gets great reviews so I’m looking forward to going back to audio soon.

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    • Chung is one of his very best creations, isn’t she? And Wieldy becomes more and more essential as the series goes on – he maybe has more depth, in fact, then either Dalziel or Pascoe. I think all these middle ones are brilliant – he was really at the top of his form at this point in the series.

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  6. I must get back to reading this series. I started working through it from the beginning last year and my next read will be Child’s Play, so not far to go until Bones and Silence. I enjoy the characters and the intelligent writing and your review is motivation to pick up the next book before too long (after Victorian novels 😉). I didn’t mind Brian Glover’s narration too much when I started the series, I’ll see what I think about a return to it, once I get there.

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  7. I am taking far too long to read through all of the Dalziel / Pascoe series. I read this one nearly 10 years ago and loved it, and the last one I read was Recalled to Life, also very good, in 2018. At this rate I won’t get to the end of the series. I love his writing and the characters are always interesting.

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  8. Just finished reading this. I agree with you that the climax succeeds more as drama than psychological realism, but it doesn’t really matter. Thanks for the review and recommendation!

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