Reginald Hill: the central dynamic

By Stephen Booth

Aside from his stature as a writer, there’s one characteristic of Reginald Hill that everyone seems to agrees one – his generosity of spirit and unfailing willingness to support other writers. So it seems fitting that one of the most succinct summaries of his approach to writing a crime novel didn’t appear in any tribute to Reg, or in an interview with him, or in anything that he said about himself. It appeared in an appreciation of another author’s work.

I felt I’d been given a fascinating glimpse into the Reginald Hill crime writing philosophy, when I read these words: “Good crime fiction is economical, which does not mean short but rather that everything in a book, however apparently peripheral, incidental, or even ornamental, should contribute to the story’s central dynamic. If a writer is successful in this, readers will finish the book with that contradictory sense of delight and disappointment – delight at having enjoyed such a complete and rounded experience, and disappointment that it’s over!”

I think the idea of the “central dynamic” is crucial to an understanding of Reginald Hill’s novels. Some crime writers (and indeed editors) might insist that nothing should be in a book which doesn’t contribute directly to moving the plot forward. But for Hill, there was more to a book than the plot. That “central dynamic” was about an idea, a theme, or an underlying concept. The unravelling of a mystery was a very important part of that concept, but not the whole of it. All those peripheral, incidental or ornamental elements were crucial to the story too. So each Hill book became, to use his own words, “a complete and rounded experience”. Continue reading

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