Recalled to Life (Dalziel and Pascoe 13) by Reginald Hill

The last Golden Age murder…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Back in 1963 Dalziel was a young detective, working for a man he respected as a mentor and friend, Wally Tallantire. It was Tallantire who solved what has since been called “the last Golden Age murder” – called that, anyway, by the documentary maker who is casting doubt on the investigation and questioning the verdict. A weekend house party at Mickledore Hall had included a government minister, a diplomat with Royal connections, a CIA officer, a variety of spouses and a couple of nannies, and much bed-hopping had gone on. It all ended with the shooting of one of the wives, and Tallantire’s investigation led to the conviction of the owner of the Hall, Ralph Mickledore, and his lover, the American nanny Cissy Kohler. Mickledore, strangely confident that he would be pardoned, found his confidence misplaced and was hanged. Cissy Kohler, whose confession led to the conviction of them both, has spent thirty years in prison, but is now out and is claiming Tallantire forced the confession out of her. In a bid to protect the reputation of his old mentor, now dead, Dalziel starts to look into the case again. At first he is confident the right people were convicted at the time, but gradually he begins to worry that Tallantire may indeed have cut a few corners…

This is quite an odd one in the series, in that it’s a cold case investigation. As is usual in the UK, another force has been tasked with carrying out the review of the handling of the case and Dalziel is told by his boss to keep out of it, but when does Dalziel ever do what his boss tells him? Soon he has dragged Pascoe into his unofficial investigation, reluctantly since Pascoe is in the unenviable position of being the liaison with the official investigators. Pascoe never knew Tallantire, but his loyalty to Dalziel is stronger than he would like to admit so he understands why Dalziel wants Tallantire’s name cleared.

1963 was the time of the Profumo affair in Britain, which involved the downfall of a government minister, John Profumo, when it was revealed that he had been having an affair with a woman, Christine Keeler, who had also been playing around with a Soviet naval officer. One scandal led to another, and there were all kinds of rumours of men in prominent positions being involved with high-class prostitutes provided by a kind of socialite pimp, who later killed himself. Hill has used this story freely to build his own version of the scandal among the people visiting Mickledore Hall, but with enough differences to keep it interesting. For instance, he has added at least one murder! One of the things I like about Hill is that when he borrows from life or fiction, he makes it very clear that he’s doing so – it is no coincidence, I’m sure, that Christine Keeler and Cissy Kohler share initials, for instance. The title is also borrowed, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in which an innocent man spends many years in prison for the crime of knowing too much about the sordid secrets of the rich and powerful.

However, Cissy is not an appealing character. Whether guilty or innocent of involvement in the murder for which she was convicted, there is no doubt that one of her young charges died while in her care, either through negligence or deliberate design. And during her imprisonment she killed a prison guard. Dalziel feels these actions vindicate Tallantire’s belief in her guilt. But when he comes to suspect that maybe Tallantire did pressure her into a confession, he realises this would mean that the real guilty party got away with murder, and that’s not an idea that pleases him.

When Dalziel is told in no uncertain terms to take a holiday before he gets suspended, he decides to go to America, where several of the original suspects now are, including Cissy herself. Seeing Dalziel blundering about America in his usual blunt, bull in a china shop way is fun – he is as baffled by some aspects of American culture as the Americans are by him.

Reginald Hill

The story in this one is very convoluted, and it seems as if everyone has at least one secret, often more. I think it gets too busy at times, and crosses the credibility line more than Hill usually does. However, he’s great at showing how big a part class played in all aspects of British life in the early ‘60s – it still does, of course, but there’s not the same reverence today as there was back then towards the “well-born” rich and powerful. The death of the child makes it darker than a true Golden Age mystery would normally be, and gives a psychological depth and ambiguity to Cissy’s character that might otherwise have been missing. But there’s also enough humour in it to lift the tone and make it as entertaining as most of these books are. Not one I’d recommend as an entry point for newcomers to the series since I think it works better if you know Dalziel well, but a rewarding and enjoyable read for existing fans.

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32 thoughts on “Recalled to Life (Dalziel and Pascoe 13) by Reginald Hill

    • I did, and since Hill was probably a couple of decades older than me he must have been a young man during that period so was speaking from first-hand experience. He gives a really good picture of the time as the end of an era, just pre-Beatles mania and the Swinging Sixties and so on.

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  1. I do like the look back at an old case in this one, FictionFan. And you’re right, I think, about the wit. It lifts up the story, but not so that it takes away from it. I also like the way Dalziel is willing (albeit reluctantly) to consider that he might have been wrong about the case. I always like the fact that he knows he’s an imperfect human being…

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    • He does the cold case aspect very well – I found the class set-up very believable for that period and it was an interesting way to use the Profumo scandal (and this time round kept reminding me of the Epstein scandal too!). I always enjoy the wit – as you know I’m not keen on relentless grimness in crime fiction. The banter between the regulars always means there’s a level of entertainment in these.

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  2. The premise of this sounds really interesting – I love the idea that a documentary maker has raised new questions and Dalziel is now having to deal with the prospect that his mentor might have been wrong.

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    • I liked that it was treated as a cold case rather than a dual timeline – there were some flashbacks but mostly it takes place in the present day looking back. And it’s fun to see a young Dalziel just starting out as a detective!

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  3. This sounds pretty interesting. I particularly like the question of whether someone’s other crimes might justify the ambiguity of their guilt for a separate crime. That’s a fascinating thing for a novel to explore.

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    • Yes, I thought it was interesting that Cissy wasn’t made an “innocent victim”, but was shown as being quite believable as a murderess. Though being Hill, he even makes that ambiguous – were her other bad actions caused by the pressure she was being put under by Tallantire trying to force a confession out of her? His characterisation is always layered.

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        • Yes, I really prefer to see a “good” person driven to murder by circumstances rather than have the murderer simply be “bad” – it’s more interesting. And probably more realistic, apart from the gangster type of murderer.

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  4. I have the first book in the series on a list of mine somewhere. I really must fit it into my busy ( 😂 ) reading schedule at some point to see if I like them as much as you do.

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  5. This sounds so enjoyable! But I note you don’t recommend it as a starting point, so I just need to read the 12 before it first… I need to retire so I can get down to the serious business of catching up on these and Shardlake 😀

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  6. I have got to get back to reading this series. This one is the last one I read (I liked it a lot but did not review it), and I am on my first read of the series. So I just went and pulled Pictures of Perfection off the shelf. Miraculously that one and the next two were easy to get to.

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    • I adore Pictures of Perfection – it’s one of my top two, along with On Beulah Height which is only a couple of books further on in the series. I just finished re-listening to Pictures of Perfection a week or two ago (I’m so behind with reviews) and really do think it’s pretty much perfect… 😀

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    • Haha, you’ll love Dalziel then! His poor bosses don’t stand a chance… 😉 I shall be watching closely for your reviews, and will keep tempting you until you finally cave to the pressure… 😀

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  7. This plot does sound a bit convoluted, especially considering it is a cold case, which tends to complicate things even further when so much time has passed. I like the idea of a reading about someone blundering through American customs, seeing them through other’s eyes is always entertaining!

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    • As I’ve been re-reading these I’ve realised the plots are often the weakest part of the books – too convoluted and often not very memorable. The characters however are wonderfully done, and the language is great. I’d have loved to see Americans trying to cope with Andy Dalziel! 😀

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