Book Versus Adaptation by Bernadette Bean of Reactions to Reading from Australia
Book Versus Adaptation is an occasional series hosted at Reactions to Reading which, in this instalment, focuses on the first book in Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.
The first of 24 books in a series, A CLUBBABLE WOMAN was published in 1970 and was, according to Hill’s foreword to a recent re-release of the novel, intended to be a standalone book featuring “a young, liberally minded, reasonably idealistic graduate” called Peter Pascoe. His uncouth, old-fashioned, ex-Rugby playing boss Andy Dalziel was to be a mere contrast to the chief protagonist! Both men are introduced at the beginning of Chapter Two and perhaps the relative lengths of their descriptions gives a hint that Dalziel was already straining to take the lead regardless of his creator’s intent
Superintendent Andrew Dalziel was a big man. When he took his jacket off and dropped it over the back of a chair it was like a Bedouin pitching camp. He had a big head, greying now; big eyes, short-sighted but losing nothing of their penetrating force behind a pair of solid-framed spectacles; and he blew his nose into a khaki handkerchief a foot-and-a-half square. He had been a vicious lock forward in his time, which had been a time before speed and dexterity were placed higher in the list of a pack’s qualities than sheer indestructibility. The same order of priorities had brought him to his present office.
He was a man not difficult to mock. But it was dangerous sport. And perhaps therefore all the more tempting to a detective sergeant who was twenty years younger, had a degree in social sciences and read works of criminology.
I adore the imagery of this passage; it so succinctly enables readers to build solid first impressions of the book’s two leading men.
The case that the men are working on is the murder of Mary Connon. After playing a Saturday afternoon game for his local Rugby club, during which he received a nasty blow to the head, Sam Connon heads home and almost immediately collapses into his bed, not even stopping to talk to his wife Mary who is watching television. Some hours later he rings the police to report waking in the night and finding his wife’s body in their lounge room. Although Sam, or Conny as he is known, himself is a suspect for obvious reasons there is no evidence of his having committed the crime and so his friends and neighbours all join the suspect pool (an unknown intruder being ruled out early on due to Mary’s lack of defence wounds).
Having thoroughly enjoyed the last few books of this series I was a bit wary about going back to the start but was pleased to discover a quite delightful book. It is not as polished as some of Hill’s later novels; the plot meanders a little in the first half and some of the red herrings are a bit obvious, but it stands up well and is strong evidence for Hill’s designation as one of England’s truly great (crime) novelists. The characterisations, including those of the supporting cast as well as the main players, are a real strength. In reality neither Dalziel nor Pascoe is a particularly likeable man but both are intriguing and engage the reader in wanting to learn more about what lies under the surface. Another thing I associate with Hill’s writing which is on display here is his ability to create a setting which draws the reader in. This book takes place in the almost closed environment of a local rugby club and the nearby homes of its members and is pretty much pitch-perfect in depicting a very ‘blokey’ atmosphere with a very cloying feel of everyone knowing each other’s business and secrets being near-impossible to keep.
The TV series based on the books offered 46 episodes over 12 years from 1996 onwards. For the first three and a half seasons all the episodes were based directly on one of Hill’s original books while all but one of the subsequent episodes had brand new stories. The last few books of Hill’s books were never incorporated into the TV series.
The TV version of A CLUBBABLE WOMAN has a setting contemporary to the time it was filmed which makes it 26 years later than the book on which it is based. The fact that this disparity is not particularly noticeable feels to me like evidence of Hill’s above average talents as a writer. His material has a timeless quality, relying more on character development and an intelligently woven plot than it does gadgetry, forensics and other elements which can date a book.
Broadly, the book’s storyline is followed, at least as far as the mystery goes. The background though has some differences including the fact that Peter Pascoe’s love-interest, Ellie Soper, doesn’t appear until the second of the books but she is front and centre in the adaptation of A CLUBBABLE WOMAN. Pascoe is also provided a different family background in the TV series though not until a few episodes later (in the first book mention is made of his family living in a ‘two up two down’ in some distant city, but in the TV series he is from a local farming village where one of the later episodes takes place).
The casting is very good, especially Warren Clarke as Andy Dalziel. There might have been a tendency to focus only on the physical elements of Dalziel’s persona – his size and unacceptable personal habits etc – but though Clarke does reflect these he also allows the character to display the street smarts and cleverness that got him to such a senior position. I must admit though I am not quite as taken with the televisual Pascoe though I suspect this is less Colin Buchanan’s fault than it is the show’s writers. Pascoe in the adaptation is more self-assured and polished than his somewhat immature and girl-obsessed literary counterpart which makes the distinctions between the two main characters far more obvious than they are in the book.
While the adaptation is a decent one and in keeping with the spirit of Hill’s book I’d say the book is the superior product though the margin is a slim one. It is funnier, more playful and, clearly benefiting from its creator’s assumption that it is a standalone novel, is less consumed with establishing various series norms than its televised counterpart. And while this is not Hill’s best book or even the best book of the series it does show the genesis of the quite remarkable body of novels which would follow.