Review: The Woodcutter – Reginald Hill

Review by Vanda Symon of Overkill, from New Zealand

I read with great sadness that Reginald Hill had died early this year. He was huge in the world of crime fiction, bringing us a piece of Yorkshire with the Dalziel and Pascoe novels, but it wasn’t until I read his obituary that I realised that his writing ranged far further than crime, and that he’d also written historic fiction, thrillers, science fiction and another series – Joe Sixsmith. It also made me realise I hadn’t actually read any of his books. I’d seen the BBC adaptations of Dalziel and Pascoe, and in an odd kind of a way my mind had decided that because I’d seen the programmes, I’d therefore read the books. But we all know that is not the case!

It was time to remedy the situation. But where to start? The man had written over fifty novels! Normally I would start at the beginning, particularly if the writer had a series of books, but then with twenty-four Dalziel and Pascoe novels it was all a bit daunting. So I decided to start at the end, with The Woodcutter, the stand-alone thriller published in 2010.  I’d read some great reviews of the book, so thought I’d go with what people were calling one of his best.

Of course he had me with the first lines:

‘Summer 1963; Profumo disgraced; Ward dead; The Beatles’ Please please me top album; Luther King having his dream; JFK fast approaching the end of his; the Cold War at its chilliest; the Wind of Change blowing ever more strongly through Colonial Africa, with its rising blasts already being felt across the Gate of Tears in British-controlled Aden.’

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‘Celebrating Reginald Hill’ Competition #1 now open

We hope you’ve been reading the site with great enjoyment.  You may want to try out a novel by Reginald Hill for the first time, you might want to extend your Hill reading, or you may love to collect first editions.  In all cases we have prizes just for you.  For competition #1 we will concentrate on two of the popular books in our posts to date and thus we have the following up for grabs:

  1. 2 UK first editions of The Woodcutter (see picture above – Midnight Fugue and the poster will be offered in Competition#3)
  2. 3 UK paperbacks of The Woodcutter
  3. 5 UK paperbacks of The Stranger House.

Many thanks to HarperCollins for the provision of the prizes. Continue reading

News Alert – Competition #1

Just to let you know, the prizes for competition #1 which will run this Friday are confirmed as:

  1. 2 UK first editions of The Woodcutter (see picture below – Midnight Fugue and the poster will be offered in competition #3)
  2. 3 UK paperbacks of The Woodcutter
  3. 5 UK paperbacks of The Stranger House.

We will have questions based on what’s been featured on this site so far, so get swotting!

Thanks to HarperCollins for their generosity.

Book Review and Tribute: The Woodcutter

By Jessica Mann

The school I went to, nowadays fashionable and full of girls with famous surnames, wasn’t at all glamorous when I was there.  Middle class girls were sent there for a fiercely academic education.  Most of us also acquired an accent like the Queen’s and a tone of (usually unjustified) authority and conviction.  The almost ineradicable “St. Paul’s voice” can be off-putting and at our first meeting, forty years ago, mine did put off Reginald Hill, an Oxford graduate who still spoke like a northerner and looked like a Viking.  As we continued to meet at crime writers’ events, and later at Detection Club dinners, we became good friends.  His quiet, sardonic comments were a delight in real life just as his wit and irony are a delight in his fiction.

PB at Amazon UK.

I won’t pretend to have enjoyed all his books equally.  But when The Woodcutter arrived I was bowled over.  Here was one of the best crime novelists of  our time producing one of his best and most original novels 40 years after he’d published his first (A Clubbable Woman).  It had a completely new subject and treatment and didn’t seem to repeat anything from earlier work.  Fresh ideas were still bubbling up.

This stand-alone novel is still in the thriller genre, containing crimes, clever clues and eventual revelation, but it’s much more than that.  The protagonist is Sir Wilfred Hadda, a self made tycoon. “Once upon a time I was living happily ever after”, he says.  But then he was charged with financial crimes on an epic scale, and with computer child porn offences.  Wilfred alias Wolf was convicted and sent to prison.  His teenage daughter died.  His wife left him for his best friend.  From the peak of wealth and happiness he fell to rock bottom.  When the book begins he has served his prison sentence.  Alone and broke, he lives as a recluse in the wilds of Cumbria where he had grown up.  He is haunted by his past and plots revenge on the associates who cheated him and the treacherous wife whose memory is “burnt on his soul like a shadow on a wall left by an atomic explosion.”

But the prison psychiatrist, a young woman, is still determined to break through Hadda’s mental and physical defences.  She invades his rustic privacy with her questions, answers and sympathy.  Watching from the outside, the reader switches between believing that Wolf was an innocent man framed by unidentified enemies, and thinking that he really had been a dangerous criminal.  The final denouement is a satisfactory surprise.

I can hear Reginald Hill’s voice in The Woodcutter, with his characteristic combination of clever wordplay, sharp observation, and unflinching realism about humanity’s darker side.  The twin themes, poor boy makes good, and how are the mighty fallen, both suited him perfectly.  It’s a worthy culmination to a valuable life’s work.

Jessica Mann is a novelist, journalist, broadcaster and author of non-fiction, with some twenty crime novels to date.  As a journalist, she has written mostly for the Daily and the Sunday Telegraph, and contributed a weekly column to The Western Morning News.  Her book reviews have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, and at present she reviews crime fiction for The Literary Review.  Her latest book is one of non-fiction, The Fifties Mystique, published by Quartet.

Book Review: The Woodcutter – Reginald Hill

Review by José Ignacio Escribano of The Game’s Afoot from Spain.

British author Reginald Hill died January 12th, 2012, at the age of 75. Best known for his “Dalziel and Pascoe” series, he also wrote a number of standalone novels.

When I was asked to participate in a tribute to Reginald Hill my first reaction was to decline politely, mainly because I had not read any of his books. But I gave it a second thought. I had an excellent chance to start reading one of his books and there is no better tribute to an author than read her/his books.

The next question was where should I start? Not an easy task in this case if you check the impressive list of his books in Fantastic Fiction. But to cut a long story short I decided to read his latest book. One can always return to his earlier works to find out how he got there. And I was lucky, his last book The Woodcutter, Harper (2011) is a standalone.

UK paperback edition

Book Description: “Wolf Hadda’s life has been a fairy tale. From his humble origins as a Cumbrian woodcutter’s son, he has risen to become a hugely successful entrepreneur, happily married to the woman of his dreams. A knock on the door one morning ends it all. Universally reviled, thrown into prison while protesting his innocence, abandoned by friends and family, Wolf retreats into silence. Seven years later, prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo makes a breakthrough. Wolf begins to talk, and under her guidance he is paroled, returning to his family home in rural Cumbria. But there was a mysterious period in Wolf’s youth when he disappeared from home and was known to his employers as the Woodcutter. And now the Woodcutter is back, looking for the truth—and revenge. Can Alva intervene before his pursuit of vengeance takes him to a place from which he can never come back?” (HarperCollins).

The book opens with two short chapters that take place in two different time periods, 1963 and 1989. The characters involved remain anonymous and the stories do not seem to have any meaning. From there onwards the novel unfolds through several voices and the action moves back and forth between past and present events. For my taste it is a truly entertaining book. The story is superbly developed, it has some good doses of humour and the characters are nicely drawn. As the events unfold, the reader gets hooked up until the last pages in a futile task of trying to anticipate what may come next. Overall The Woodcutter is masterfully written, the plot is intelligent and thus offers a very satisfying read. I’ve been definitely captivated by the prose of Reginald Hill and I have the firm intention to read him more.

My rating: 5/5.

The Woodcutter has been reviewed by Martin at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, Yvonne Klein at Reviewing the Evidence, Nick Hay at Reviewing the Evidence, Anne Corey at Reviewing the Evidence, among others.

Read an extract from The Woodcutter [PDF viewer required].

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