Book review: Reginald Hill, An Advancement of Learning

The second Dalziel and Pascoe novel sees the pair at a college of higher education after the discovery of a corpse under a statue’s foundation block. Naturally, life gets even more complicated, and not just because they have to wade through both student and staff politics in their pursuit of the truth. Fresh corpses are provided, and it’s up to Dalziel and Pascoe to decide which were murder and which were suicide, ideally without becoming corpses themselves.

Dalziel has no time for students, and the feeling’s mutual. But Dalziel doesn’t let his dislike lead him into underestimating his opponents, while the students make the mistake of thinking that Dalziel’s a fascist pig and therefore stupid. Pascoe’s feelings are more ambiguous, as he was a graduate recruit to the police force. His former university friends don’t approve of his choice of his career, and his liberal sympathies don’t always endear him to his colleagues, but this case reassures him that being a copper was the best way for _him_ to change the world for the better. The pair’s different experiences and views combine to form a formidable team in this setting, something they’ll need to deal with the criminal they’re trying to pin down. Even near the end, it seems that it may be a case of knowing who and how without having quite enough evidence to prove it…

This early entry in the series is a relatively simple police procedural, rather than the complex literary game to be found in some of the later novels, but still has Hill’s characteristic style and wittiness. It’s one for all fans of the series, whether your taste runs to the shorter novels or the long, psychologically complex ones, as it sets up some of the series background. Apart from developing Pascoe’s character, it introduces two of the recurring non-police characters. Pascoe is reunited with old university friend Ellie Soper, whom he later marries: and this is the first appearance of Franny Roote, who reappears much later in the series as a major character in a story arc spanning several books. And it is, of course, an entertaining book in its own right.

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