Two’s company 2…

Another double review to help clear my backlog, though this particular pair really demand to be reviewed together…

Dialogues of the Dead (Dalziel and Pascoe 19)
by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When an AA man dies after apparently falling from a bridge, it is assumed to be an accident. Then a young musician crashes his car into a tree and dies, again put down to accident. But at the local library, librarians Dick Dee and Rye Pomona are going through the massive pile of entries to a short story competition in the local paper when they come across anonymous stories that show another side to these deaths, and it appears they must have been written before the deaths were reported in the media. As Dalziel and Pascoe begin to investigate, there’s another death, then another, and it appears obvious the team have a serial killer on their hands. The killer is soon nicknamed the Wordman, since each death is accompanied by another short story. Meantime, new member of the team, “Hat” Bowler, is falling in love…

I had forgotten just how good this one is! It’s a wonderful blend of light and dark, and full of Hill’s trademark love of words and wordplay, which this time he puts at the centre of the story by filling the Wordman’s written “confessions” with literary “clues”, and by involving the librarians – Dick Dee especially loves to play word games. There’s a huge cast – essential, since so many of them will be bumped off and there need to be enough left as suspects. It’s mainly set among the self-styled great and good of the town, and Hill has excelled himself in creating characters who stay just the right side of caricature. Dalziel is on fine form, which means the book is full of humour, but Hill is expert at suddenly changing the mask from comedy to tragedy – the murders are dark enough, but the Wordman’s confessions take us deep into a troubled and damaged mind.

The denouement is tense and thrilling, and the solution shocks. And we’re left with the reader knowing more about what happened than Dalziel and Pascoe. They think that everything has finally been wrapped up, maybe not neatly, but securely. However…

* * * * *

Death’s Jest-Book (Dalziel and Pascoe 20)
by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s impossible to see this one as anything other than as Part Two of Dialogues of the Dead. Unlike many of the books in the series, this one does not stand on its own – anyone trying to read it without having read the one before would probably be completely lost, or at the very least feel as if important stuff had been left out. As a result, I’m not giving a little blurb, since almost anything I say about this one could spoil the last one. I’d also say to anyone who’s reading the series in order, make room to read these two one after the other – they’re both intricately plotted and having the details of the first one fresh in your mind helps when reading the second.

Oddly, although it is a sequel of sorts, this one doesn’t work nearly as well as the first, in my opinion. Hill had obviously become fascinated by the character of Franny Roote over the course of the series – a man who appeared in one of the early cases and reappears in several of the later ones, becoming a kind of nemesis for Peter Pascoe. In this one we get screeds of letters he writes to Pascoe which take up probably around a third of the book, and while they’re interesting, often amusing and, of course, well written, they slow the main plot down to a crawl. I’m afraid I never found Franny quite as entertaining as Hill clearly thought he was, although he provides an interesting study in psychology both of himself and of Pascoe’s reaction to him. I’m not sure the psychology is completely convincing, though.

The other aspect that weakens this one is very hard to discuss without spoilers, so forgive my vagueness. As I said above, at the end of Dialogues of the Dead, the reader knows more than the characters. This continues throughout Death’s Jest-Book, which is basically the story of Dalziel and the team gradually realising that their knowledge is incomplete and trying to fill the gap. Hat’s love story continues too but, knowing what we know, we more or less know how that will work out. So all through we’re watching the characters learning about things the reader already knows. Of course it’s more complex than that makes it sound, and there’s still all the usual stuff that makes Hill so enjoyable – the writing, the language, the regular characters, secondary plots, moral dilemmas – but the pace is very slow, and plot-wise it doesn’t build the same level of tension. It’s good – just not as good as the first part of this story, and being a sequel of sorts it’s impossible to avoid making that comparison.

* * * * *

In summary, then, together the two books form one massive story – both books individually are chunksters. Dialogues of the Dead is excellent and could be read separately as a standalone, although the reader is likely to feel that there are some loose ends. Death’s Jest-Book is good but with some structural weaknesses, and is very much a sequel or second part. It doesn’t work well as a standalone, and should be read soon after Dialogues of the Dead while the details are fresh.

24 thoughts on “Two’s company 2…

  1. Hill was always so good a wordsmith, wasn’t he, FictionFan? And his love of words comes through very clearly here, I think. And you’re right about the wit woven into the stories. Enough to keep them from being too weighed down, but not so much that it takes away from the tension, etc.. Hmm….I should be careful when I write my little stories. You never know what may happen…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, just don’t send your stories anonymously to the local library! 😉 Yes, he’s great at getting that mix of light and dark. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of fairly grim stuff in these books, but he handles it with a lot of warmth that stops it from becoming depressing. And he’s great for expanding one’s vocabulary! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve still not read anything from this series, but you’ve really piqued my interest with that first one! Dang, then I’d have to read the second one, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sadly Dialogues of the Dead isn’t available on Audible – no idea why since every other book in the series is! I had to revert to a paper copy for it, which was quite refreshing actually after so many audiobooks. Death’s Jest-Book is available as an audiobook though.


    • Hill loved to play with words, so his murderers tend to be quite erudite and often leave clues in the shape of Shakespeare quotations or Austen references, and so on! Not perhaps the way normal murderers behave, but much more fun! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to admit stories about serial killers are my least favorite kind of crime fiction. From the blurbs about Death’s Jest Book, it looks as though it was supposed to be a stand-alone, which is a tad confusing if it works better as the second part of Dialogues of the Dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I often wonder how much attention blurb writers pay to the actual content of books! Certainly you could read Death’s Jest-Book on its own, but it would feel as if you’d missed out on a lot of stuff, particularly character development, and there would be loads of references to events you didn’t know about. I suspect if I’d read it on its own it’d have got a very lukewarm rating from me. I’m not a serial killer enthusiast either, but Hill doesn’t follow the usual path of female victims or gruesomeness – his murderers and victims all tend to be quite erudite!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoyed the early audiobooks which were narrated by Colin Buchanan, who played Peter Pascoe in the TV series. But from about halfway through the series the narrator starts changing every two or three books, and I must say that’s been driving me mad, having to get used to a whole new set of character voices every time. I’ll be more careful to check if there’s continuity in the narration before starting another long series on audio.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Getting closer to reading these two books and looking forward to them! I’m reading (listening to) On Beulah Height at the moment and it’s just so satisfying on so many levels. I find it hard to drag myself away from listening sessions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On Beulah Height really is exceptional, isn’t it? I remember the first time I read it I felt Hill had found the crossover between crime and lit-fic, and while some of the later books are more light-hearted, I feel he stays in that general zone thereafter. All that preparatory work of reading the early books and growing to love the characters pays off in these later books, I think.

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