Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Death of Dalziel

I only really discovered the writer Reginald Hill last year, after reading Exit Lines, one of the Dalziel and Pascoe series of crime novels. I had read a book of short stories, some of which were a little odd, some brilliant, and of course I'd seen some episodes of the TV series on DVD. So I was familiar with Hill, in a sense.

Not every Dalziel and Pascoe book is created equally. I tried two others last year and couldn't get into either of them. Hill likes to vary his style quite a bit, and one of these started out as a Grand Guignol piece that didn't suit my taste at all. The other began with two or three men being killed before the first couple of pages were out, and again that didn't seem like Hill's best work, but I could have been just not in the mood.

Anyway, while we were in Christchurch we came across a secondhand copy of The Death of Dalziel, a story, as you might guess, that was written late in Hill's career. No point killing off one of your main characters if you're planning on more episodes. This book is vintage Hill: the wit, the literary quotes, the scatological humour that just avoids the gross and no more, the superb pace, the beautifully-drawn characters - from the well-known duo, to those who feature regularly, to those who were new altogether.

The book has a wonderfully convoluted plot, and shows that Hill as a master of his craft in every respect. Early in the piece, Dalziel and Pascoe are checking out a set of terrace houses that are on their last legs, and in which PC Hector (the world's dullest policeman, who also featured in Exit Lines) thinks he's seen someone threatening someone else with a pistol. Just as Dalziel decides to explore the situation, the place explodes, setting fire to all the terrace houses, and almost killing Dalziel in the process. At this point Dalziel retires from action in the book, and is only seen, as it were, inside his head - he's in a coma for most of the story. Pascoe is forced to take over in his place after recovering from his own injuries, and then finds himself in the middle of all sorts of shenanigans with Muslims, ex-SAS soldiers, the secret force that's supposed to be dealing with terrorism, Knights Templar, a TV chat show that goes wrong, assassinations and more. 400 pages and not one that's inessential.

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