Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe Series by Martin Edwards
-updated on sunday twice
Many distinguished crime writers eventually lose the enthusiasm for their detective heroes. Agatha Christie tired of Poirot and Dorothy L. Sayers of Wimsey; Conan Doyle committed the unforgivable sin of killing off Sherlock Holmes and was forced to respond to reader pressure by rescuing him from doom at the Reichenbach Falls. All too often, it seems, invention flags during the course of a long series. Yet Reginald Hill is an exception who proves the rule; his books about the mid-Yorkshire policemen Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe continue to go from strength to strength. Interviewed recently by Rosemary Herbert for The Fatal Art Of Entertainment, he said that he did not find his detectives a constraint, but rather "a liberating force".
The first meeting of Dalziel and Pascoe is chronicled in "The Last National Serviceman", a story first published in the British paperback original Asking For The Moon (1994). Their initial appearance in print came in A Clubbable Woman (1970), which was Hill's first published novel -- although he had earlier written Fell Of Dark, a non-series mystery which came out subsequently.
From the opening paragraphs of A Clubbable Woman, Dalziel has been a character destined to stay in the memory. Fat and coarse he may be, but to underestimate his shrewd insights into human nature is invariably to make a grave mistake. The contrast between Fat Andy and the sensitive liberal Pascoe is an enduring source of strength in the series.
Hill had not originally intended to bring the pair back for a second outing, but he found the combination too appealing to resist and they returned in An Advancement Of Learning (1971), set against a college background familiar to the author, who taught for many years before beginning to write full time. Ruling Passion (1973) showed Hill's developing skills, as did An April Shroud (1975), in which --following Pascoe's departure on honey-moon -- Dalziel sets off on holiday by himself and becomes stranded by flooding in the middle of the Lincolnshire countryside. Soon he finds himself confronting a mystery, even though it is unclear at first whether any serious crime has actually been committed. A Pinch Of Snuff (1978) was recently adapted for television in three parts. It seemed to Hill's many admirers that exposure on the small screen would add to his legion of fans and given that Yorkshire Television was responsible for the production, the project seemed to be in good hands. In the event, the British comedians Hale and Pace were sadly miscast as Dalziel and Pascoe and the script failed to convey to viewers the quality of the novel on which it was based. One can only hope that it will not be too long before other books in the series receive more suitable treatment.
The title story in Pascoe's Ghost (1979) is a novella about the duo with echoes of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Together with "Dalziel's Ghost", a short story which first appeared in the same book, it has recently been reprinted in Asking For The Moon.
The 1980s saw Hill continuing to experiment. A Killing Kindness (1980) is a story about serial murder committed by the Shakespeare-quoting Yorkshire Choker. Deadheads (1983) [See Note] is a suspense novel of distinction: here the key question is 'whether an apparently likeable man is in truth a multiple killer. Even better is Exit Lines (1984), in which the inevitability of death is a key theme. "Like so many aspects of human life," Hill has said, "the ageing process has elements which are comic and those which are tragic, which suited the series, since Dalziel himself inhabits a world where comedy and tragedy walk hand in hand."
Child's Play (1987) and the splendid Under World (1988), set in a mining village shortly after the disastrous national miners' strike, were both short-listed for the Crime Writers Association's Gold Dagger Award and with Bones And Silence (1990) he finally won the palm. Bones And Silence is a superb achievement in which Hill's skills and plotting, characterisation and evocation of atmosphere are perfectly showcased. The Yorkshire Mystery Plays provide the background and Fat Andy -- who else? -- literally plays the role of God. After this, another novella, One Small Step (1990), was a slight disappointment. Typically imaginative, it is set in the year 2010 and features the first murder on the Moon; it has recently been reprinted in Asking For The Moon. The re-appearance of Dalziel and Pascoe in a full length novel was most welcome and Recalled To Life (1992), did not disappoint. Dalziel re-investigates an old miscarriage of justice case and, in the course of his enquiry, journeys to New York with hilarious consequences. The many incidental pleasures of the book include several good jokes at the expense of publishers and the crime writing genre (which Pascoe believes "has more Queens than Solomon") as well as a very funny interview with a retired hangman. Yet the prevailing mood of the novel, as well as many of its predecessors, had been bleak and Pictures Of Perfection (1994) provided enjoyable light-hearted relief. It is in some respects a fairy tale, presenting a mythic portrait of life in the English country-side. Yet in writing the book, Hill also had a serious purpose: "One or two critics have suggested that Pictures is not really a crime novel, but I don't agree. You could say that in a sense it is about the greatest crime of the century - the destruction of community spirit and a whole way of life in England during the past fifteen years." Yet if Hill's novels are subversive, they are subtly so.
The next Dalziel and Pascoe novel, The Wood Beyond is a sort of companion piece to Pictures of Perfection, but one which focuses on the darker side of the pastoral idyll. The good news is that there is no prospect whatsoever of this particular author abandoning his most celebrated characters; he says, "Since writing Exit Lines, if not before, I have felt that the Dalziel and Pascoe story-lines can accommodate pretty well any kind of tale I care to tell." Long may he continue to tell those tales.
Article originally appeared in Deadly PleasuresBIBLIOGRAPHY of Dalziel & Pascoe novels
NOTE: Front cover picture from Deadheads starring Warren Clarke as Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, Colin Buchanan as Detective Inspector Peter Pascoe and Susannah Corbett as Ellie Pascoe. Directed by Edward Bennett. Produced by Eric Abraham and Paddy Higson. Adapted for television by Alan Plater. A BBC TV/Portobello Pictures production in association with BBC Worldwide and the Arts and Entertainment Channel.
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