Reg Hill’s Self-deprecation
By Barry Forshaw
Whenever I met Reg Hill, I always found the most winning of his many winning features was his reluctance to take himself seriously – a characteristic he shared with Colin Dexter, but burnished to an even more self-deprecating level. He was always polite about anything I wrote about him in various newspapers over the years (whatever his private view!), but told me that the following (for The Death of Dalziel) was his favourite review of mine. My day was made. Now I can sadly quote the first line of the piece about Reg himself.
Is he really dead? Has the Fat Man really sung at last? That’s something you won’t learn from this review (and Reginald Hill’s publishers are keen that you pay to find out the answer). But there’s no denying that many will read this latest entry in Hill’s exemplary series with an extra frisson of interest (has it really been 37 years since we first met the educated, sensitive copper Peter Pascoe and the coarse but lovable Andy Dalziel in A Clubbable Woman?). And many of us will be wondering – has Hill tired of Dalziel?
The catastrophe that Reginald Hill has lined up for his detective involves Middle Eastern terrorism being imported to these shores – and an explosion in a video shop on the security register that leaves Andy a bloody, comatose heap, while Pascoe (his life saved by the shield of his friend’s considerable bulk) struggles to consciousness, his only thought being to get his partner to hospital. All of this happens in chapter one – by chapter two, Andy is critically ill, incapable of movement – and this allows Hill to try one of the audacious experiments that he’s partial to: we are taken into the chaotic impressions that crowd Andy’s drugged consciousness. In the process, we learn more about him than we did in all the previous 21 books. With the sardonic wit suppressed (after a typically scabrous burst of it before the explosion to remind us of his take-no-prisoners attitude), we are shown a richer, more complex man than the bluff exterior has led us to expect. This is one of the ways that Hill has kept the series fresh – with innovations that take the reader to surprising areas. (One Small Step, for instance, dealt with the first murder on the moon in the year 2010.) But another reason for the series longevity (apart from the highly successful TV adaptations) is Hill’s readiness to engage with important social issues – and that readiness is apparent here in the elements that set the violence in The Death of Dalziel in motion: religious fundamentalism in the ethnic communities of Britain begins to foment the commission of lethal terrorism – and, in reaction to this, the host nation throws up its own men of violence, ready to greet what they see as a threat to Britain with an equally ruthless vigilantism. Peter Pascoe discounts the MI5 explanation of the explosion (an accident in which would-be bombers have blown themselves up) and looks into the mysterious activities of the Knights Templar, more deeply involved than the security services are prepared to admit. As usual, Hill is utterly unputdownable. But… does Andy Dalziel die? It will cost you a penny short of eighteen pounds to find out…
Barry Forshaw’s latest books are Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction and British Crime Film; other work includes British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, along with books on Italian cinema and Stieg Larsson. He writes for various newspapers and edits Crime Time.