Reginald Hill – Short Story Writer

Analysis and Discussion by Martin Edwards of Do You Write Under Your Own Name, from the UK

Reginald Hill – Short Story Writer

When Reginald Hill died at the start of this year, the countless tributes to him naturally focused on his novels.  Of course, the Dalziel and Pascoe series earned world-wide acclaim, and several of his less well-known non-series books – The Only Game is an example that springs to mind – are truly memorable.  But in addition to his work as a novelist, Reg was one of the genre’s finest short story writers. It is a pity that this aspect of his achievements is sometimes  overlooked, as there is huge pleasure to be gained from his work in the short form.

I met Reg at the start of my career as a crime writer, and from then on, he became both a friend and a mentor. We were both founder-members of the Northern Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association, and when I was asked to put together a collection of stories by members of the Chapter, Reg’s support was a great help. The book we produced was called Northern Blood, and his contribution was a typically entertaining tale called “Market Forces”.  Two more Northern Blood books followed, and again Reg had a story in each book – “Where the Snow Lay Dinted” was a Dalziel and Pascoe tale that appealed to me greatly when it first appeared a couple of years earlier, while “The Thaw” was one of his earliest ventures into the short mystery, its first appearance being in 1971.

Reg had, by the time we met, already published two collections of his short fiction. Pascoe’s Ghost mixed tales of Mid-Yorkshire’s finest with stand-alones, while There Are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union included a novella featuring a Russian called Chislenko (Reg, the son of a professional soccer player, took the name from a footballer who played for Russia in the 1966 World Cup), a riff on Jane Austen, and the very first appearance of Joe Sixsmith, the amiable black private eye who would later feature in several novels. Later, he wrote “The Last National Serviceman” which described the first meeting of Dalziel and Pascoe.

The Northern Blood books did well, and as a result, I was asked to take over the editorship of the CWA anthology. Naturally, one of the first people I turned to when soliciting stories was Reg. I told him that the theme of the book (Perfectly Criminal was the title eventually chosen) was “the perfect crime” and he came up with the goods – a super story called “The Perfect Murder Club”. Reg , a bit of a perfectionist himself when it came to fiction, could never resist tinkering with his work, and he produced a different version of the story shortly afterwards, which appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, although he was happy for his first version to appear in the anthology. At the time, I suggested that a comparison of the two stories might give some future PhD student researching Reg’s work something to chew on. You never know, it may yet happen!

Reg won the CWA Short Story Dagger in 1995 and repeated the feat with the marvellous “On the Psychiatrist’s Couch”, which I included in Whydunit? And I can honestly say that there was never any occasion when I asked Reg to produce a story for a book I was editing and he failed to deliver. What’s more, all his stories were of genuine quality. This was typical of his generosity, shown again when he provided a witty and kind introduction to my own collection of short stories, Where Do You Find Your Ideas? Continue reading