Audiobook of the second Dalziel and Pascoe, abridged on 3 CDs and read by Warren Clarke, who played Dalziel in the late 90s tv adaptation. I’ve previously reviewed the novel itself here. This is a good abridgement, and Clarke is an excellent reader, but of necessity it does leave out some of the character development. An enjoyable version but probably better for those already familiar with the book.
Here’s the first of July’s books:
66) Reginald Hill — An April Shroud
Fourth in the Dalziel and Pascoe series. The previous book focused on Peter Pascoe and his involvement as a witness rather than a policeman, after finding his friends murdered. This one focuses on Andy Dalziel finding himself in a similar situation. The difference here is that Dalziel finds himself amongst strangers, and it’s not entirely clear for some time whether there is a crime at all, and if so what it is.
Dalziel is supposed to be going on holiday after attending Pascoe’s wedding, but finds himself stranded by a flood, and invites himself to stay with the funeral party who rescue him. The newly widowed Bonnie Fielding has more troubles on her mind than the loss of her husband — their fledgling Banqueting Hall business needs to be up and running soon, or the business, and the family, will be bankrupt. Dalziel gets entangled in what at first seems like an entertaining diversion, but when more corpses appear, he has unpleasant choices to make.
A good read in its own right, but I found it even better when I read it in sequence. This book develops Dalziel as a character, showing him as off-duty as he gets, and telling us something about him as a person as well as a policeman.
36) Reginald Hill — A Clubbable Woman [audiobook]
Abridged audio adaptation of the first book in the Dalziel & Pascoe series (which I’ve previously reviewed), on 3 CDs. It’s read by Warren Clarke, who played Dalziel in the tv adaptation. This is a good abridgement, which from following along in places on the printed edition I thought cut about half the text while retaining everything needed for the plot, plus a good chunk of the characterisations. Clarke does an excellent job of reading.
First of the books read in April…
30) Reginald Hill — There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union, and other stories
Collection of half a dozen crime stories first published in 1987, which has some bearing on the tone of some of them. The collection is laced with a biting humour, and some superb if sardonic observations of human nature.
My favourite in the collection is the eponymous novella, in which Inspector Lev Chislenko arrives at the scene of an accident at a government building in Moscow, where the witnesses say they saw a man in old-fashioned clothes fall down a lift shaft – only there is no body. It’s an embarrassing case to be involved with, especially as the higher-ups want the rumours of ghosts quashed as un-Soviet. There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union. But to his discomfort, Chislenko’s investigation intended to prove the non-existence of ghosts by showing that no such accident happened even in the past leads him in a direction he hadn’t expected to go.
Other stories include “Bring back the cat!”, private detective Joe Sixsmith’s first case; “The Bull Ring”, a nasty little tale about brutal training methods used on Great War recruits; “Auteur theory”, a nominally Dalziell and Pascoe story which turns out to be meta discussion on more than one level; “Poor Emma”, which I can only describe as one of the odder pieces of literary fanfic gamesmanship I have encountered, probably as likely to infuriate Austen fans as please them; and “Crowded Hour”, about a “take the wife hostage at home” armed robbery attempt that twists and turns.
I didn’t like all of these stories, but they were all well-crafted pieces that made me think. Only half of them are ones I’d really want to read again, but I don’t regret the time spent on any of them.
This is the fourth of the novels about Joe Sixsmith, a redundant lathe operator turned private eye from Luton. The chapel choir that Joe sings in is on its way to Wales for a choral festival. Things get off to a fine start when the bus first gets lost on the way, and then breaks down in the middle of nowhere.The last incident to mar the journey is a good deal more serious, as they come across a burning cottage with a woman trapped inside. Joe goes to the rescue, saving the woman but putting himself in hospital for a few hours, and putting himself out of the choral competition with the tenporary throat damage from smoke inhalation. That leaves him with plenty of time to investigate the fire, which at first glance looks like an anti-English arson attack that went further than intended. But his digging gradually turns up evidence of other crimes, some petty and others very serious indeed.
As always with Reginald Hill’s novels, this book is both a gripping mystery and a beautifully written piece of prose. Joe is an entertaining character, and the book is very funny without ever trivialising the crime that lies at the heart of the case. The cast of characters is well developed, and there’s a nice exploration of the way middle and upper-class criminals can cover their tracks by exploiting the willingness of others to do a little favour for a friend.
Hill’s series books build a continuing universe, with his characters developing as a results of events in previous books, and later books often refer back to early books in the series. This one is no exception, but there’s enough backstory worked in that you don’t need to have read the earlier books in the series first–at the time of writing this is the only Sixsmith novel I’ve read, and I had no trouble following the references to the backstory.
Singing the Sadness at amazon.co.uk
Someone tries to abduct Ellie Pascoe, and the obvious assumption is that it’s to get at Peter — but there’s more going on than meets the eye. Some of Ellie’s activist friends have very interesting connections, and chance brings some of them together in even more interesting patterns. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, one of Dalziel’s unwanted connections doesn’t believe in coincidences…
This is definitely not one for new readers — the opening sequence requires a good deal of patience, and trust that it will eventually make sense. In fact, it’s an excellent example of the sort of thing new writers are advised not to do. Even long-time fans of the series will be left wondering what is going on for the first three chapters. Things gradually become clear, and in retropect the initial section makes a great deal of sense. Whether you like it or not will depend on what you look for in a Dalziel and Pascoe book. This novel focuses on Ellie Pascoe and her friends, and there’s much less of Dalziel and police procedural material than usual. That’s partly because much of the Dalziel and Pascoe page count is in the form of a novella Ellie is writing, with the pair cast as Odysseus and Aeneas. Chapters from Ellie’s novel are woven into the main storyline, eventually tying in with the “real life” location of the main story. I enjoyed the book, and very much enjoyed the story-within-a-story, but I can see why others wouldn’t.
This book is complete in itself, but is strongly tied in to the long term universe development of the series, with references to events in several previous books. There’s enough backstory worked in that there’s no need to have read the earier books, but you’ll probably get more out of this one if you’re already familiar with some of the backstory. It also contains significant spoilers for previous books, including the outcome of An Advancement Of Learning. In turn, some of the later books refer back to events in this one, but it’s not necessary to read this one first to enjoy the later books.
In summary, worth reading but not for everyone, and ideally should not be read before reading the earlier An Advancement of Learning.
Arms and the Women at amazon.co.uk
Arms and the Women at Barnes & Noble
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.