By Andrew Taylor
I first encountered Reginald Hill thirty-five years ago. Not that I knew who he was.
At the time I was dabbling in the freelance shallows of publishing. One of my jobs involved writing cover copy. Two of the books that came across my desk were Urn Burial and Death Takes the Low Road, a pair of intelligent thrillers by ‘Patrick Ruell’ – which I learned only later was one of the three pseudonyms used by Reginald Hill, author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series.
I met Reg in person at a CWA conference a few years later. By this time I had become a writer myself; he and Peter Lovesey took pity on my innocence and gave me glasses of wine and much needed advice on agents and other writerly topics involving money. That was typical: he was a very kind man, and he knew the value of hard cash to professional authors.
The following year our paths crossed again. I was still working for a paperback publisher and I’d been commissioned to write a detailed assessment on Reg’s work in general and on the Dalziel and Pascoe series in particular. I read the series up to date, including what was then the new book; many of his short stories; and – another new novel – his wonderful (and unfairly forgotten) World War I novel, No Man’s Land. I’m glad to say that the publisher decided to take the series. No credit to me, though. The books spoke, and speak, for themselves. They are like the man: witty, generous and unfailingly intelligent.
On behalf of the same publisher, I asked Reg for some biographical and critical material that could be used to promote the books. He replied immediately and in admirable detail. That, too, was typical – he was always efficient, which is not a quality one always associates with authors. He enclosed a short monograph, entitled ‘Reginald Hill: A Brief Life’, which made me laugh as I read it, as did so much of his work. (And that’s why I still know, for example, that Reg did his national service in the Border Regiment, rising to the dizzy height of Acting Lance-Corporal [unpaid].)
He also enclosed a selection of reviews. It was clear from these that he had a pleasing sense of the absurdity of the exercise on which we were jointly engaged. Pride of place went to a review of An April Shroud in the Doncaster Evening Post, a rarely quoted journal of record. The banner headline went straight to heart of the matter: DONCASTER MAN PENS ANOTHER a phrase that still glitters in the memory.
There are two sorts of crime writers: the solitary and the sociable. Reg belonged to the latter category, which is why we coincided often in years that followed. The last time I spent an evening with him was in London. There was a dinner involving crime writers, as there so often is.
After the meal, bottles of claret continued to appear. One by one, authors drifted away into the night. At last there were only four of us left. So we had another bottle, or possibly two. Afterwards we found ourselves outside on the pavement. It was a mild June night. The other two authors hailed the only taxi in sight and drove away.
Then there were only the two of us. Otherwise the street was empty. There were no pedestrians. No cars passed us. I looked at my watch. It was between two and three o’clock in the morning. Where had the time gone?
With a shock I realized that the taxis had gone home, public transport had more or less stopped for the night, and that in front of me stretched a seven-mile walk to a friend’s house; and unfortunately I didn’t have a key to his door. I mentioned this to Reg.
For a moment he swayed to and fro, contemplating the problem. Then he smiled benignly at me. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Let’s go to my hotel and have a brandy.’
Andrew Taylor’s novels include the bestseller, The American Boy, chosen by The Times as one of the top ten crime novels of the decade; the Roth Trilogy (filmed for TV as Fallen Angel); the Lydmouth Series; Bleeding Heart Square; and the The Anatomy of Ghosts. His most recent awards are the CWA Diamond Dagger and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He is the Spectator’s crime fiction reviewer. Further information: here and find Andrew on twitter @andrewjrtaylor.