By Michael Walters
As it happens, I can date my first encounter with Reginald Hill’s books fairly precisely. It was the summer of 1989 and I was taking short holiday with my wife in Dorset. Those were the days before children, so we could still enjoy the occasional leisurely Sunday morning. We were sitting in some Dorchester cafe and I’d bought myself a copy of the old Sunday Correspondent newspaper. The Correspondent survived less than a year, which is why I know the year, but it was a decent newspaper and, in this one instance, it did me a big favour.
The Correspondent had a good book section, and that edition contained a lengthy article on an author who was described, without qualification, simply as the best crime-writer in Britain. I was intrigued. My knowledge of crime fiction was more limited in those days, but I’d been reading the stuff avidly since I was a teenager and yet apparently had somehow contrived to miss the country’s best. The next day I found myself, inevitably, in a local bookshop and I picked up a copy of Hill’s most recent paperback, Under World. I immediately became even more intrigued. This was a crime novel, set in Yorkshire, dealing in part with the aftermath of the 1984 miners’ strike and the legacy of resentment and suspicion that lingered in the mining communities.
So Under World was the first Reginald Hill novel I read, and – although I think one or two of the other Dalziel and Pascoe books are possibly even better – it’s the one that most lingers in my mind. Partly, it’s a personal resonance. I come from a mining family. My father, and my uncles and grandfathers on both sides all worked in the pits, and I was brought up in a mining town (about half a mile from where D H Lawrence was born, in fact). The strike itself had been traumatic, and over the previous decade I’d watched pit after pit closing. My father’s last job, before he took early retirement, was literally closing down the pit where he’d worked. So it was remarkable to find a crime-writer describing that world so convincingly, tackling the emotions and politics in a way that was moving and gripping, but never sentimental or polemical. Continue reading