A Pinch of Snuff (Dalziel and Pascoe 5) by Reginald Hill

Dark secrets…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

There have been complaints from the local residents about the Calliope Club, a private cinema that shows pornographic films, so the local police in the person of Sergeant Wield are already keeping an eye on it. However, everything is perfectly legal and the only disruption the club is causing is to the respectable sensibilities of its neighbours. But Jack Shorter, one of the club members, is worried, and since he happens to be Inspector Peter Pascoe’s dentist, he takes the opportunity to pass on his concerns. He tells Peter that in one scene of a film, in which the naked heroine is being beaten up her equally naked captor, he is convinced that the beating is real and that the woman has been seriously hurt, if not worse. So Peter goes along to see for himself, starting a chain of events that will uncover some dark secrets around the town and lead to murder…

By the time of this fifth Dalziel and Pascoe book, both of the main characters have become much more fully developed, although they will continue to evolve throughout the long-running series. Dalziel is brash, crude and often uncouth, although he’s perfectly capable of presenting different faces when he wishes. He knows everyone who’s anyone around his patch, and is well tuned in to all the gossip and secrets of his fellow townspeople. Pascoe is educated and cultured, more empathetic and often deeply affected by the things he witnesses as part of his job. He is the modern face of policing, although that modernity of 1978 when the book was first published seems very out-dated now, especially in social attitudes. Because this story involves porn, violence towards women and what would now be considered child exploitation at best, or child abuse at worst, those outdated attitudes make for uneasy reading to modern eyes. If you find it difficult to allow for different times, then this may not be the best book in which to meet Dalziel and Pascoe for the first time.

However, if you can look past that, then there’s a strong plot here – tighter and better paced than in some of the earliest books. The storyline is undoubtedly dark, but there’s plenty of room for some humour in the interaction between the two leads. Hill tended to change the main viewpoint from book to book, and here we see the story from Peter’s perspective, which is a kinder and gentler one than Dalziel’s. The starting point of the story – the suggestion of ‘snuff’ movies, where the supposedly fictional on-screen death is actually real – soon veers off to become more domestic in nature, as Jack Shorter is suddenly accused of seducing one of his underage patients. Meantime, the owner of the Calliope Club is attacked and left to die, and Peter must try to find out if there’s a connection to his investigation into the possible snuff movie. With all the concentration on porn, there are some salacious moments and some earthy language but no graphic descriptions of sex, on or off screen.

As the series progressed, the books gradually widened out from the two main detectives to become more ensemble pieces with several recurring characters. That process is beginning in this one, as we get to know Ellie, Peter’s wife, a little better. She’s a feminist and what we would now call a social justice warrior, so there’s always tension between Peter and her over his job, since she sees the police as a reactionary pillar of a patriarchal society. Sergeant Wield is also coming to the fore, although at this early point in the series, he is almost unrecognisable as the complex and appealing character he will later become.

Reginald Hill

Going back and reading these books in order has made me realise just how much the characters developed and changed over time – a reflection, I suspect, of Hill’s own development as well as of the changes in society during the decades in which he was writing. It’s quite hard to realise it now, but in fact at the time these books were at the forefront of the social changes, with Hill addressing subjects like feminism and homosexuality at a time when they were rare indeed in crime fiction. The way he does it sometimes seems clumsy to us now, with our heightened sensitivity and demand for strict adherence to the rules of liberal political correctness, but the underlying messages are positive ones for those who can see past the blunter style of expression of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Pascoe is already learning to be more sensitive, partly through Ellie’s influence, and later in the series even Andy Dalziel will show he’s not as dinosaurish as he likes to appear.

While there are still a few books to go before Hill hit his peak, this one feels to me like a bit of a turning point, with indications of how the series would later develop, especially in the characterisation. As always, this series is highly recommended!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 197…

Episode 197

Goodness! The TBR is down another 3 this week to 222! At this rate, two things will happen: 1) I will run out of books and 2) several of you (you know who you are!) will turn purple with rage, green with envy and yellow with terror that the same thing might happen to you. Which will officially qualify you to join Clan Abercrombie…

Here are a few more that will be taking the high road soon. No heavy fiction since I’ll be starting Middlemarch soon and that might take me two or three decades to read, so it’s another Crime Week…

Crime

Courtesy of riverrun at Quercus. I saw several glowing reviews of the first book in this series, so when I was offered this second one, I grabbed it, especially since the publisher says each book works as a stand-alone. I realised recently that I’m not following very many current series since some have come to an end (or I’ve grown tired of them), so I’m on the lookout for a couple of new ones. Could this be one?

The Blurb says: The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it.

On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law.

But as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide.

Kent and its social divisions are brilliantly captured in Deadland, a crime thriller that’s as ingeniously unguessable as it is moving and powerful.

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Crime

I’m slowly re-reading my favourite crime series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. This is number 5, and I remember when I first read it being utterly shocked at the idea of snuff movies. (In case you haven’t come across the term before, snuff movies are a variation of porn films where the violence against women portrayed onscreen is not acting, but real, up to and including the victim’s death.) I’d never heard of them and wondered if Hill had invented the idea, but apparently they actually exist or are at least rumoured to. The world is a sick, sick place…

The Blurb says: Love, or at least pornography, are for sale at the arty Calliope Kinema Club on posh, proper Wilkinson Square. According to Yorkshire police superintendent Dalziel, it’s all legal. Detective Peter Pascoe, however, doesn’t believe it. His dentist, who knows real broken teeth and blood when he sees them, insists that the pretty actress wasn’t playing a part when it happened. But the action that puts Pascoe into the picture is homicide. The sudden death of the Calliope’s proprietor soon turns a sleazy sex flick into serious police business. And now Dalziel and Pascoe are looking into the all-too-human desire for pain, pleasure…and murder.

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Crime

Courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. This series is darker than I usually go for, but I love her writing – she usually creates a really creepy or tension-filled atmosphere. And I like the two lead characters too…

The Blurb says: The police find out about the crime the way everyone does: on Snapchat. The video shows the terrified victim begging for forgiveness. When her body is found, it is marked with a number 2…

Detective Huldar joins the investigation, bringing child psychologist Freyja on board to help question the murdered teenager’s friends. Soon, they uncover that Stella was far from the angel people claim – but even so, who could have hated her enough to kill?

Then another teenager goes missing, and more clips are sent. Freyja and Huldar can agree on two things at least: the truth is far from simple. And the killer is not done yet.

A brilliantly suspenseful story about the dark side of social media, The Absolution will make you wonder what you should have said sorry for…

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Thriller

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. I enjoyed Cavanagh’s debut novel, The Defence, a few years ago and really meant to keep up with his new releases – didn’t happen! However, I keep seeing glowing reviews of his books, so I’m jumping back on board with this new one. The blurb is singularly unhelpful, I must say, and if I didn’t know anything about the author, would certainly not tempt me to read the book… WRITING BLURBS IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM MORE EXCITING!!! (FF’s Eleventh Law… 😉 )

The Blurb says: BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.

2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.

3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

An April Shroud (Dalziel and Pascoe 4) by Reginald Hill

In which Dalziel becomes human…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Following newly-minted-Inspector Peter Pascoe’s wedding to Ellie Soper, Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel sets off on a little holiday. His plan is to drive around the countryside hoping to find enough of interest to keep him occupied, but in reality he’s feeling a little lost and even lonely. Peter’s wedding has brought home to him his own lack of family, and he’s reached as high as he’s likely to go in his career. But his plans are put on hold when April showers turn into a veritable flood and his car becomes waterlogged. Rescued by a family returning from a funeral, he goes with them to their home, Lake House, to dry off and phone a garage. But the combination of an intriguing death in the family and the friendly charms of the remarkably cheerful widow persuade him to prolong his visit…

One of the things that always kept this series fresh was that Hill regularly changed the focus among the various characters. In this one, Andy gets his first solo outing. Peter makes token appearances at the beginning and end but plays no real part in the story. This gives Hill the chance to let the reader get to know Andy from the inside – prior to this we’d really always seen him through someone else’s eyes, usually Peter’s.

Although I grew very fond of all the major characters – Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy, Novello – Dalziel was always the one I enjoyed most. He’s such an intriguing mix of brash, uncouth Yorkshireman – a big, loud, crude, bullying brute of a man – and well-hidden sensitivity: a man who might use blatantly offensive homophobic terms, but will defend his gay colleagues at a time when that was highly unusual; who can be hideously sexist in the language he uses to women, but who respects their intelligence and strength far more than many of his politically correct colleagues; who is no respecter of class, but who uses his own mostly artificial veneer of uncultured boorishness as a blunt weapon to dominate any company he’s in, from the rugby club to the manor house.

This is the book where we really begin to see him as more than a caricature. As he finds himself drawn towards the widow, Bonnie, he gets sucked into a moral quagmire largely of his own making. The police have investigated the death of Conrad Fielding and have reluctantly concluded it was an accident, despite the fact that the insurance claim on his death will come in very handy for the rest of the household. Lake House is costly to live in and too run-down to let, so the family have come up with a scheme to convert part of it into a mock-Medieval Banqueting Hall. But funding has run out and bankruptcy looms unless the insurance money comes through in time for them to finish the work on the place before the scheduled opening in a couple of weeks’ time. As Andy gets to know the family better, he has to decide whether to share what he learns about them with the local police or keep his suspicions to himself. It’s not as if he knows anything for sure…

Reginald Hill

Hill also has fun with the characters in the house, from the elderly poet Hereward, about to be given an award he feels he should have been given years ago when young enough to enjoy it, to the budding film-maker who augments his income by taking the kind of girlie photos that show up in the less respectable kind of magazine, to the Woosterish young man who wants nothing more than to punt on the lake, shooting ducks. The widow herself is a typically wonderful Hill woman – strong, intelligent, generous, quite possibly wicked, definitely ambiguous. A Yorkshire femme fatale. Is she attracted to Andy for his innate charm and manly physique? Even Andy is doubtful about that. Or is she using him as protection from the interest of the local police?

The mystery itself becomes more complicated when more bodies begin to show up in unexpected places. Accidents? Murders? Connected or coincidental? Andy will eventually work it all out, but then he’ll still have to decide what to do about it. And meantime, the inaugural Medieval Banquet grows ever closer…

Lots of humour as always, but in this one Hill gives us the first real indication of how the series will develop in terms of depth of characterisation and the complicated relationship between our two main players, Dalziel and Pascoe. And in this one, for the first time, we begin to see that Andy is human too, with all the vulnerabilities and sensitivities he so successfully hides from the world. As always, highly recommended – the best detective series of all time!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 164…

Episode 164…

Woohoo! After the recent horrific rises in the TBR, a massive drop this week! Down FOUR to 221! (Three read, one abandoned, NONE added!) A definite dive!

Here are a few more that should fall off soon…

Fiction

This has been on my TBR since January 2013, so it’s probably about time I got around to reading it! I don’t understand why I haven’t before now, because the blurb still appeals to me as much now as it did then…

The Blurb says: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living – and whom he does it for.

With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters – losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life – and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of Penguin Classics via Amazon Vine. l’m not having a huge amount of success with the South American leg of my Around the World tour – I think it’s the style of writing that doesn’t work for me. However, again, this blurb sounds great, so fingers crossed this one might be a winner…

The Blurb says: Santiago is trapped. Taken political prisoner in Montevideo after a brutal military coup, he can do nothing but write letters to his family, and try to stay sane.

Far away, his nine-year-old daughter Beatrice wonders at the marvels of 1970s Buenos Aires, but her grandpa and mother – Santiago’s beautiful, careworn wife, Graciela – struggle to adjust to a life in exile. Graciela fights to retain the fiery passion that suffused her marriage, her politics, her whole life, as day by day Santiago edges closer to freedom. But Santiago’s rakish, reckless best friend is a constant, brooding presence in the exiles’ lives, and Graciela finds herself drawn irresistibly towards him.

A lucid, heart-wrenching saga of a family torn apart by the forces of history, Springtime in a Broken Mirror tells with tenderness and fury of the indelible imprint politics leaves on individual lives. Generous and unflinching, it asks whether the broken bonds of family and history can ever truly be mended.

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Crime Re-Read

Last year I embarked on a re-read of what is undoubtedly my favourite crime series of all time, Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe, and sprinted through the first three. And then I got side-tracked! Time to get back on track with no. 4…

The Blurb says: Superintendent Andy Dalziel’s holiday runs into trouble when he gets marooned by flood water. Rescued and taken to nearby Lake House, he discovers all is not well: the owner has just died tragically and the family fortunes are in decline. He also finds himself drawn to attractive widow, Bonnie Fielding.

But several more deaths are to follow. And by the time Pascoe gets involved, it looks like the normally hard-headed Dalziel might have compromised himself beyond redemption.

* * * * *

Classic Thriller

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. This is one of those books I’m 99% sure I’ve read but have a seed of doubt that maybe I’ve just seen a million adaptations. Either way, I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of the ones from my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: Adventurer Richard Hannay, just returned from South Africa, is thoroughly bored with London life – until he is accosted by a mysterious American, who warns him of an assassination plot that could completely destabalise the fragile political balance of Europe. Initially sceptical, Hannay nonetheless harbours the man – but one day returns home to find him murdered…

An obvious suspect, Hannay flees to his native Scotland, pursued by both the police and a cunning, ruthless enemy. His life and the security of Britain are in grave peril, and everything rests on the solution to a baffling enigma: what are the ‘thirty nine steps’?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Ruling Passion (Dalziel and Pascoe 3) by Reginald Hill

ruling passionTragedy at Thornton Lacey…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Peter Pascoe and his girlfriend, Ellie Soper, are off for a weekend break to visit old university friends now living in the village of Thornton Lacey. But when they get there, they are met with tragedy – three of their friends lie dead from shotgun wounds and the fourth, Colin, is missing. Not surprisingly, Colin immediately becomes the chief suspect, but neither Peter nor Ellie can bring themselves to believe he could have done such a horrific thing. Meantime, back in Mid-Yorkshire, Dalziel wants Peter back as soon as possible, since they are in the middle of a major investigation of a string of burglaries that seems to be escalating into violence.

First published in 1973, this is the third book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and shows a big leap in the development of some of the characters. Pascoe has changed out of all recognition from the rather commonplace young man of the first book. He’s now showing the intelligence and sensitivity that make him such an enjoyable character, both in his own right and as a contrast to the brash and arrogant Dalziel. Dalziel still has some way to go in terms of development – he’s still not quite the larger than life figure he will become. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s missing in his character so far, but am looking forward to spotting it as the series progresses. I think it may be his touch of omniscience, or that he hasn’t quite fully become the ‘big fish in a small pond’ of later books.

Ellie, too, has developed a good deal from the last book, but is also not yet fully the Ellie of the middle and later ones. With her character, Hill gets away from the, to modern eyes, outdated portrayal of women as little more than sexual temptresses that he gave us in the first book. Ellie is a mixture of strength and softness – a feminist at a time when feminism hadn’t quite worked out what it wanted to be when it grew up. Volatile and feisty, politically on the left and therefore deeply ambivalent about Peter’s job in that tool of capitalist oppression, the police force, she often gives him a hard time. But deep down she knows he’s one of the good guys and agrees, though she might never say it, that his job is one that needs to be done, and is better done by honourable, intelligent men than by thugs like Dalziel (it’s the ’70s, chaps, so forgive the inbuilt sexism in that sentence – Hill will introduce women police detectives later). In this book, though, she also begins to get to know Dalziel better and starts the slow process of realising that maybe his thuggish exterior hides a more complex and nuanced morality than she’s ready to give him credit for.

Susannah Corbett and Colin Buchanan as Ellie and Peter in the BBC adaptation
Susannah Corbett and Colin Buchanan as Ellie and Peter
in the BBC adaptation

Pascoe’s relationship with Ellie and this trip back to his university days highlights his intellectual side, which in turns allows Hill to start what becomes a feature of later books – references, some subtle, some humorous, to the greats of English literature, especially Jane Austen. The title is from Pope and his poem Eloisa and Abelard plays a minor role in the plot. If you spotted that the name of the village comes from Ms Austen’s Mansfield Park, well done! Some of the characters’ names are also from Austen, often her juvenilia. If you like these sorts of references, it can be fun trying to spot them, or googling them; but, if the thought makes you go cross-eyed with boredom, I can reassure you that they’re completely incidental to enjoying the books. When I first read them, long, long, ago, I was unaware that Hill liked to play these games, never spotted them, and never felt that I was missing anything.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

The plot in this one is deeply confusing with too many people playing minor parts and too much coincidence coming into play. I’m finding on this re-read that the plot tends to be the weakest part of each of the books so far. It’s always set up interestingly, as with this one in the triple murder scene, but somehow it tends to get a bit over complicated as the book progresses. However, it’s the quality of the writing and characterisation that lift even these early books above the average. There is always plenty of humour to offset the darkness of the storylines. Hill gives a believable picture of Ellie and Peter’s grief at the deaths of their friends, but without wallowing in it. And their growing relationship is handled beautifully, showing all the compromises that have to be made when two strong characters collide, but also the rewards that come in a partnership of real equals. This one works fine as a standalone, as they nearly all do, but I must say that reading them in order gives extra pleasure in seeing both the characters and Hill’s writing style develop as the series progresses.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 82…

Episode 82…

 

Ooh, the TBR has dropped 2 this week – to 167! So tchah! to all you gloaters who were trying to push me up to 200 – your nefarious schemes have failed!! (So far…)

Here are some of the ones that are getting close to the top of the heap…

Fiction

Travels with my AuntA re-read from many years ago, by one of my favourite authors, this will take me on a journey on the Orient Express for the #AW80Books challenge…

The Blurb says: Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time in over fifty years at what he supposes to be his mother’s funeral. Soon after, she persuades Henry to abandon Southwood, his dahlias and the Major next door to travel her way, Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, Paraguay. Through Aunt Augusta, a veteran of Europe’s hotel bedrooms, Henry joins a shiftless, twilight society: mixing with hippies, war criminals, CIA men; smoking pot, breaking all the currency regulations and eventually coming alive after a dull suburban life.

In Travels with my Aunt Graham Greene not only gives us intoxicating entertainment but also confronts us with some of the most perplexing of human dilemmas.

* * * * *

 

chapel springs survivalWell, this is listed on Amazon as “Religious and Inspirational Women’s Fiction” so you may well wonder why it’s turned up on my TBR! Because it’s edited by our very own Susan P, regular commenter, fellow cat-lover and all round good chap… how could I resist? I’ll be keeping a close eye on the grammar… 😉

The Blurb says: A mail-order bride, a town overrun with tourists, and illegal art ~ How on earth will Claire and Chapel Springs survive?

With the success of her Operation Marriage Revival, life is good for Claire Bennett. That is until the mayor’s brother blabs a secret: Claire’s nineteen-year-old son, Wes, has married a Brazilian mail order bride — one who is eight years older than him. When Claire tries to welcome her new daughter-in-law, she’s ridiculed, rebuffed, and rejected. Loving this girl is like hugging a prickly cactus. Will Claire and her family survive her son’s marriage? From the first sighting of a country music star in Claire’s gallery, The Painted Loon, to the visit of a Hollywood diva, Chapel Springs is inundated with stargazers, causing lifelong residents to flee the area. When her best friends, Patsy and Nathan, put their house on the market, Claire is forced to do something or lose the closest thing to a sister she’s got. With her son’s future at stake and the town looking to her to solve their problems, it’s Claire who needs a guardian angel.

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Crime

 

ruling passionContinuing my gradual re-read of the Dalziel and Pascoe series, this is book 3…

The Blurb says: From Yorkshire to the sleepy village of Thornton Lacey is only a morning’s drive, but for Detective-Sergeant Peter Pascoe, the distance will close off part of his life forever. Motoring down for a reunion with old friends, he arrives to find not a welcome but a grisly triple murder. Out of his jurisdiction, Pascoe is in an untenable position: one of his oldest friends is wanted for murder, his boss is ordering him back to Yorkshire, and his instincts are telling him that the local constabulary will never suspect that the crime’s true motive lies not in the obvious places…but in the unexplored zones of passion within a twisted heart.

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Sci-fi

 

2001 a space odysseyI think this is the last of my Christmas books – and I have the film to go with it! I’ve tried watching the film in the past but never made it all the way through – I’m hoping reading the book will help…

The Blurb says: Written when landing on the moon was still a dream, made into one of the most influential films of our century, brilliant, compulsive, prophetic, 2001: A Space Odyssey tackles the enduring theme of man’s place in the universe. On the moon an enigma is uncovered. So great are the implications that, for the first time, men are sent out deep into the solar system. But, before they can reach their destination, things begin to go wrong. Horribly wrong.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

An Advancement of Learning (Dalziel and Pascoe 2) by Reginald Hill

an advancement of learningPolitics and orgies – the academic life…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The staff and students of Holm Coultram College gather together to watch a statue of a giant bronze nude be lifted from its present site on the college lawn to make way for a new building. Feelings are running high in some quarters, since the statue is a singularly inappropriate memorial to the late lamented head of the college, Alison Girling, killed some years ago in a freak avalanche while on holiday in Austria. But things are about to take a dark turn. As the plinth is raised into the air and the earth falls away from beneath it, bones appear, first a shin-bone, then some ribs, and finally a skull complete with a shock of vivid red hair still attached…

This is the second outing for Andy Dalziel and Pete Pascoe, published in 1971. While there’s still some way to go before either of the characters become the fully rounded ones of the middle and late series, both have developed quite a bit from their first appearance in A Clubbable Woman. This time it’s Dalziel who’s out of his comfort zone, relying on Pascoe for insights into how the world of academia operates. Both characters are shown as more intelligent perhaps than in the first book, certainly more shrewd. Dalziel is showing his trademark technique of riding roughshod over anyone who makes the incorrect assumption that just because he’s a blunt Yorkshireman (though Scottish by birth, let’s not forget) then he must be thick. Pascoe is considerably more thoughtful in this one, less rough around the edges, beginning to show that softer more intellectual side which develops as the series progresses. Yes, it’s still the early ’70s, so there is still a little too much emphasis on women being judged primarily by the size of their breasts, but on the whole I felt the females were considerably more nuanced in this one – not all voracious man-hunters, or at least, not solely!

The blurb of my copy of the book, an early printing, suggests that Pascoe is the focus of the series, which I found interesting since I would always say that Dalziel is the dominant character, though it’s always a duo rather than a one-man-band. It’s true that most of the books are mainly written from Pascoe’s viewpoint, but Dalziel is such a huge character that he’s always right there casting his shadow over whatever Pete might be looking at. In these early books, Dalziel and Pascoe are the only two central characters – the expanded team of the later books, with Sergeant Wield, PC Novella et al, haven’t yet been introduced. But in this one, we meet two characters who will reappear: Ellie Soper and Franny Roote. Ellie is an old girlfriend of Pete’s and it looks like the embers of their relationship might still be glowing. Ellie is already strong and feisty, but in terms of development, she has even further to travel than either Dalziel or Pascoe before becoming the excellent lead female character of later books.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

Franny is one of Hill’s more intriguing characters, whom he will return to occasionally throughout the series. The head of the Student Union in this book, Franny is already showing the moral ambiguity that will become more pronounced each time he appears. Knowing more about him from the later books added a lot of interest to my re-read of this one – it becomes clear that Hill too found him intriguing in the writing of him, and felt that there was plenty more to explore. In fact, though all the characters continue to develop and change, Franny is perhaps the one who remains most consistent over the years. His story develops as time goes by, but the fundamental ambivalence surrounding his character is here already in this first appearance.

The plotting is complex and interesting, involving everything from departmental and student politics to orgies on the beach, though the final resoultion veers dangerously close to the old credibility line. But as always it’s the writing and characterisation that lifts this series so far above the average. Both Dalziel and Pascoe are great characters individually and the contrasts between them allow for some great humour, particularly in their dialogue. Hill is a master of allowing his characters to reveal themselves to the reader as they gradually learn to respect each other more…

“You’ve got specialized knowledge. Or think you have. Without being in a specialized job. You’ve got this… whatever it is…”
“Degree, sir,” said Pascoe helpfully.
“I know it’s a bloody degree. But in something, isn’t it?”
“Social sciences.”
“That’s it. Exactly. Which equips you to work well in…”
“Society, sir?”
“Instead of which you have to work in…”
“Society, sir?”
There was a long pause during which Dalziel looked at the sergeant more in sorrow than in anger.
“That’s what I mean,” he said finally. “You’re too bloody clever by half.”

A fine second book that’s left me even keener to get on with re-reading the rest.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

a clubbable woman 2A promising debut whose promise was fulfilled…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Sam Connon had been a rising star destined one day to play rugby for England, when his career was thrown off track by an injury. Still fit to play, though not at the top levels, he was a stalwart of the local rugby team in Mid Yorkshire, and still turns out occasionally for the fourth team – the old-timers whose glory days are behind them. On this afternoon, he has had a kick in the head during a scrum, which has left him feeling woozy and sick. So when he returns home, he merely pops his head into the living-room to let his wife know he’s home and then goes straight to bed, where he falls into something approaching unconsciousness for several hours. His wife hadn’t acknowledged his greeting but that wasn’t too unusual – their marriage was rocky, at best. But when he comes downstairs again, he discovers she is dead, with a circular hole in the middle of her forehead…

This is the first book in the long-running Dalziel and Pascoe series – my favourite crime series of all time. I originally started, as so often, in the middle of the series and then backtracked to the earlier books. And I’m rather glad I did, because although this one is a good, solid police procedural it’s nowhere near the standard that Hill reached as the series evolved. Both Andy Dalziel and Pete Pascoe have some of the attributes that make them such a memorable pairing, but they’re not yet fully developed. Andy is as brash and uncouth as he will always be, without yet the depth of characterisation that reveals the intelligence, subtlety and loyalty to his junior colleagues that is seen in later books. Pete, still single, spends much of his time having a rather annoying internal monologue, partly about the attractions of the various women he meets in the course of the investigation, and partly about his resentment and reluctant admiration for his boorish boss.

Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan as Dalziel and Pascoe in the BBC adaptation.
Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan as Dalziel and Pascoe in the BBC adaptation.

The plotting is very good as, of course, is the writing. First published in 1970, the book shows its age in Hill’s depiction of most of the women as sexual temptresses – surprising for someone who went on to write one of the most intriguingly feminist characters in crime fiction in Elly, Pete’s future wife. I guess that as a debut writer, Hill may have been trying to conform to what was then the norm, whereas he soon became a leader in the field, showing the way in including strong female and even empathetic gay characters long before the trailing pack would have dared. However, Connon’s daughter Jenny feels almost like an embryonic Elly, giving a hint of his later style in depicting women as intelligent, witty and, above all, equal to his male characters. Jenny’s boyfriend, Anthony, is the first example of another ‘type’ that appears regularly throughout the series in different personas – decidedly straight men but with slightly effeminate traits, intellectual and rather urbane, with a love of words. I have always wondered how much these characters might have been autobiographical.

Reginald Hill
Reginald Hill

The plot is interesting and quite traditional in format – all of the action centres around the rugby club so there is a defined list of suspects all with various motives. Andy, as a leading figure both in the club and in Mid Yorks life, knows everybody and this gives him access to ‘inside information’. Pete worries that Andy is too close to the people involved and doesn’t yet know him well enough to be sure that he won’t let his actions and opinions be swayed by friendship. But true to his later characterisation, Andy believes in justice above all, though he might step outside the bounds occasionally to achieve it. And the solution when it comes gives hints of the complex morality of the criminals Hill will introduce us to in future years.

To be honest, if I were reading this for the first time with no knowledge of the series, I’d probably be saying it’s a promising debut, better written than most but fairly standard otherwise. And I might or might not have gone on to read the next one. So when I highly recommend it, as I am doing, it’s as the first step in what becomes something exceptional further down the line. A series to be read in its entirety, and though not essential to read them in order, best read that way to see how all three of them – Dalziel and Pascoe, and Hill himself – develop as the years go by.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday ’Tec! The Last National Service Man by Reginald Hill

asking for the moonTo you, dear author…

 

I don’t do fan mail but one of my bookish regrets is that I never made the effort to tell Reginald Hill how much pleasure he gave me over so many years. With current favourite authors, I think of my reviews as a form of fan mail, but Hill published what turned out to be his final book before I began reviewing. I joined the Dalziel and Pascoe series at probably around the eighth book, immediately read his entire back catalogue and from then on he was a ‘must read on publication day’ author – the first author who made it onto that exalted list. I enjoyed his standalones and am extremely fond of his Joe Sixsmith series, but it’s the Dalziel and Pascoe books I love most. So, time for him to make his overdue blog debut on this week’s…

 

Tuesday Tec

 The Last National Service Man

by Reginald Hill

 

Reginald Hill 1936-2012
Reginald Hill 1936-2012

Dalziel and Pascoe made their first appearance in 1970 in A Clubbable Woman, as a wonderfully mismatched pair of detectives working in the Mid-Yorkshire CID. Andy Dalziel is an old-school copper, a larger-than-life, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Yorkshireman, but with an implaccable drive for justice that he will take into his own hands if the system fails to punish the guilty. Peter Pascoe is a graduate entry officer, complete with classical education and left-liberal ideology. On the surface, Dalziel is a bully and Pascoe a softie but, underneath, each has a core of steel and a loyalty to each other that builds and deepens as the series goes on. Neither compromises, exactly, but they learn to respect each other and value their different strengths.

In 1996, Hill produced a collection of 4 novella-length stories, Asking for the Moon, one of which, The Last National Service Man, is the story of Dalziel and Pascoe’s first meeting. After nearly thirty years, the series’ fan-base was as well-established as the duo themselves, so Hill has a lot of fun taking us back to those early days but with the added twist that we know how the two develop in their future. I think this could be read and enjoyed by someone coming to it without having read any of the books, but it’s filled with lots of ‘in’ jokes and references which make it a special joy for fans, to whom Hill dedicated the book with his usual wit.

Dedication 3

Dalziel has been away on a job in Wales and comes back to discover that a rookie graduate has been allocated to his team in his absence. He’s back to give evidence in court and coincidentally Pascoe is also at court to attend a different trial. Wieldy, the third member of the team and a major character in his own right in the later books, is there to pass a message to Dalziel. But first Dalziel and Pascoe, unbeknownst to the other, watch each other’s performance in court, and each is horrified by what he sees. Dalziel is up against a man being tried for rape of a prostitute…

“Nay, sir!” said Dalziel in all injured innocence. “Tha knows I’d never mention a man’s record in court, no matter how rotten it were. All I was going to say was, I said to myself, spotty little scrote like that, I bet he’d have to use force to get his own mother to kiss him goodnight!”

Appalled, young Pascoe hurries off to give his own evidence in the trial of two men charged with stealing a litter of piglets. The watching Dalziel is not a little stunned by the following exchange…

“As things stand” [said the lawyer] “it seems to me what we have here is a serious allegation of crime unsupported by any corpus delicti whatever.”

“Perhaps, Mr Harris,” said the magistrate who aspired to judicial wit, “we should say corpi as their were six or seven, or even eight, of them.”

“Indeed, sir. Corpi. Very good.”

“Corpora,” said Pascoe.

“I’m sorry?” said Harris, histrionically puzzled.

“The plural of corpus is corpora,” explained Pascoe.

With these two little sketches, Hill gives a beautifully witty summary of the differences between the two characters. And that’s the joy of his writing. I don’t think he ever tells us anything – he lets the characters tell us themselves. The story turns into a hostage situation when Dalziel and Pascoe are taken prisoner by a man with a grudge, but really it’s a device to put the two in a room together and let us see them getting to know each other. And, as they do, we see the wary beginnings of the respect that we know will eventually turn into an unlikely friendship over the years.

The quality of Hill’s writing is first-class – many of the later books read as much like literary fiction as crime. I hold him in part responsible for my pickiness about the standards of writing in crime fiction – he proved again and again that ‘genre’ fiction never needs to compromise on quality. Throughout his career he refused to jump on the book-a-year treadmill, which meant impatient waiting for his fans, but also ensured that his standards never dropped. I don’t ever remember reading one of his books and feeling let down by it – a remarkable achievement in such a long-running series. He loved to play games with words and structure, and with referencing some of the literary greats in his novels, but he could get away with it because he was skilled enough to play them well. And even at his most playful, he never forgot the need for great plots and consistent believable characterisation. He did darkness just as well as light, and some of his books are deeply emotionally harrowing. On Beulah Height is the book I always name when asked for my favourite crime novel, but actually I could pick several of the later books – he continued to develop and improve throughout his long career, never taking his fans for granted.

Belatedly, thank you, Mr Hill. You are missed.

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dalziel

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Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ (It’s not a mystery)

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀