By Nick Hay of Mystery Mile, UK
One of the most amazing aspects of the Dalziel and Pascoe series was Hill’s ability to write very different types of mystery while still retaining the integrity of the series characters; when, with enormous anticipation, one began to read the latest instalment it was with no fixed idea as to what the mood, topic or central trope of the book would be. It is very hard to think of any other crime writer who has ever achieved this feat within the confines of a series; the nearest is Margery Allingham in the Campion series which, like the Dalziel series, runs the gamut from the light-hearted to the wholly tragic. It would be true to say that this versatility, this plenitude, is probably what prevents Hill (and Allingham for that matter) being as highly rated as they should be. It is also why the television series is such a distortion (despite the excellence of Warren Clarke) – everything is flattened out and becomes monochrome.
Within the Dalziel canon it would be possible to map out certain groupings but considerable caution is needed due to the complexity of Hill’s writing; one could however point to certain extremes in the semi-comic An April Shroud and Pictures of Perfection (although the latter makes important political points) and the bleak tragedy of On Beulah Height and The Wood Beyond. One could also point to books which take a certain social issue like, again, The Wood Beyond (ageing) or Underworld (the Miner’s Strike), books which reflect Hill’s interest in spying/state secrets (Recalled to Life; Good Morning, Midnight etc.) and lastly books which have some literary association such as Arms and the Woman (Virgil), Dialogues of the Dead, Pictures of Perfection and so on. It is unlikely that every reader will value every ‘type’ of book equally, and even I, a Hill-disciple, enjoy those books with a ‘spy’ theme slightly less than the other two types I have described (although others might see quite different categories and I repeat that there is necessarily some crudeness in applying such a measure to a writer of Hill’s complexity).
My personal favourites are the literary jeu d’esprit which hark back to the Golden Age writings of Edmund Crispin and, above all, Michael Innes. There can be no question that A Cure for All Diseases, the penultimate Dalziel mystery, belongs in this category. Hill had introduced an Austenian theme previously in Pictures of Perfection, but in A Cure for All Diseases he took the idea much further than either he, or any other mystery writer as far as I am aware, had done before. This article attempts to demonstrate that by a close description of Austen’s Sanditon; it is not intended as any kind of conventional review of either book, rather to show how Hill used and played with his source material. The article will be largely meaningless to anyone who has not read A Cure for All Diseases. Continue reading