Iain's Leisure Reading

Reginald Hill - The Dalziel and Pascoe Series

Always on the lookout for new series to read, I came across a three book omnibus of the Dalziel and Pascoe crime series, and thought why not? It was not just three random books from the series, but books 1, 2, and 3 - perfect ! I have never been a fan of the TV series, but I know enough not to let this put me off from reading the books.

Reginald Charles Hill was born in 1936 in West Hartlepool, Co. Durham. He passed his eleven plus exam, and went to Carlisle Grammar School, where he excelled in English. Next came a spell of National Service from 1955 to 1957, and this was followed by further studies, reading English at St Catherines, Oxford from 1957 to 1960. He worked as a teacher for many years, rising to senior lecturer at Doncaster College of Education. His first Dalziel and Pascoe book was published in 1970, and ten years later in 1980 he was able to retire early to concentrate on his writing career.

Hill's father (Reg Hill) had been a professional footballer, but in those days there was not the riches in the sport that there is today. His mother was an avid fan of crime fiction, and allegedly Hill discovered the genre while fetching her library books.

Hill wrote many varied books (over 50 in total) using various pseudonymns, but he is best known for his Dalziel and Pascoe books featuring his Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalzeil and Peter Pascoe. There were more than twenty books in this series - published between 1970 and 2009, a span of almost 40 years. At the age od 75, Hill died with a brain tumour three years later in 2012, still living in Cumbria.

Hill incorporateed a variety of techniques into his writing. He sometimes presented parts of the story in non-chronological order, and sometimes alternated with sections of the story telling apparently taken over by Pascoe's wife Ellie. He also liked to take one writer or work or art as an inspiration, and base a story around that - eg one novel was a a pastiche of a Jane Austen novel. He also borrowed from Greek myth, and even set one novel in the future with Euro Commissioner Pascoe, and the retired Dalzeil investigating the first murder on the moon. How is that for variety, (and poetic licence )!

In Wikipedia I came across a terrific quote by Hill from 1986 - one to which I say "hear, hear "! Quoting Hill :-
" I still recall with delight as a teenager making the earth shaking discovery that many of the great "serious novelists" classical and modern, were as entertaing and interesting as the crime writers I already loved. But it took another decade of maturation to reverse the equation and understand that many of the great crime writers I had decided to grow out of were still as interesting and entertaining as the "serious writers" I now revered."

A Clubbable Woman     (1970)

I read this book in Jul, 2018.

This is book 1 in the Dalzeil and Pascoe series, and also book 1 in a three book omnibus I found in a charity shop. The omnibus had a plain black cover, so I have downloaded a more appropriate picture. It's always interesting to start reading a new series, and meet a new set of main characters. Here we have an interesting dynamic of an old fashioned, untidy Detective Superintendent - D. Super Andrew Dalzeil (Bruiser Dalzeil) - paired with a smartly dressed, polite graduate - D. Sergeant Peter Pascoe. Bruiser is the opposite of subtle - a huge fat slob who scratches himself in company and is coarse and raucous, whilst Pascoe has a degree in sociology and reads books on criminology. Dalzeil thinks he is the life and soul of the party - but to many he is simply a joke. He shouts and bullies, but he has risen through the ranks, so must have something going for him, and perhaps Pascoe might indeed "learn from the master."

Pascoe seems able enough, and Dalzeil tolerates him. There are all sorts of possibilities for this pairing - let's see where it goes.

This story has a strong rugby theme. Connon (Connie) is a rugby man, formerly a talented flyhalf. He broke his ankle just before an English trial, and never got another chance. He is married to Mary, and has a daughter Jenny - now off to Uni. Connie has retired from his playing days , but is persuaded to make up the numbers for the club's fourth team, and gets kicked in the head for his trouble. He makes it home, sees his wife "asleep" on a chair in front of the TV, grunts hello, goes upstairs and collapses onto his bed. Much later, when he wakes up, he finds that Mary is not "sleeping" but dead, with a nasty bash to the head. Dalzeil, a fellow rugby player at the same club as Connie, is called in and Pascoe makes up the investigating team. Did Connie kill his wife, knowingly, or when concussed, or was it someone else ?

We meet other members of the rugby club - it's not quite wife swapping, but a lot of husbands and wives have their secrets about to be revealed. Jenny comes home from Uni when she hears the sad news about her mum, and is soon followed by her new boyfriend Antony. Jenny is stunningly attractive, and Pascoe, a single man and young, is attracted , but Antony rather spoils things. As we get to know more about Mary, we find out that she was a controlling, cruel person not above doing a spot of "blackmailing". In short, there are lots of suspects who might want Mary taken care of.

It's a well told tale with a good ending that almost doesn't answer the question "who killed Mary", but sort of does in the end. I liked Connie at the very end sitting in Twickenham with an empty seat beside him, and guess whose was the empty seat. All in all, a bit of a suprise at the end, and a satisfying conclusion after all.

It looks like it's going to be good middle of the road, classic crime series. It's a good start - we will see what follows.

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