Sunday, 25 March 2007

Reginald Hill – The Death of Dalziel (Review)

Although I’ve followed the adventures of Dalziel and Pascoe on TV, this is the first Reginald Hill book I’ve read (sorry, Reg). It’s alleged that, unlike Colin Dexter with John Thaw’s Morse, Reginald Hill does not approve of Warren Clarke playing Andy Dalziel in the TV adaptations of his novels (he isn’t fat enough to play the Fat Man for a start). Hill denies it, of course (or at least he denied it in a recent interview I read), but his latest book represents a formidable challenge to the TV adapters. For the eponymous hero spends most of the book lying in a coma in intensive care, until finally . . .

Well, the clue is in the title. Of course Dalziel won’t die, you’re thinking. Will he? I won’t give away the ending, but I have to confess I was shocked.

The story isn’t your usual police procedural type of tale. It is a story with a complex plot about an extremist plot against extremist plotters, with a multi-layered counterplot. The introduction of the Security Services adds to the mix and takes the story off in unexpected directions. It’s a book about belief (in truth, in God, in self, in right and wrong) and about identity and division (Yorkshire/Lancashire, Anglo/Asian, Christian/Muslim, cops/spooks). The novel is perfectly structured, but it’s the development of the characters (especially Peter Pascoe without the support and guidance of the comatose Dalziel) that brings the story to life.

Perhaps it’s because Dalziel plays such a small part in the book that Hill feels he has to transfer his characteristic language to Pascoe. It’s interesting watching Peter Pascoe gradually stepping into the Fat Man’s role. By the end of the book, the transfer is almost complete, with Pascoe beginning to speak like Dalziel.

Maybe Ellie was right, because the Fat Man wasn’t around, he felt it necessary to speak his lines. [p.309]

Then, a little later:

Whoops, there he went, slipping into Fat Man terminology again. [p.321]

Even Pascoe starts to struggle with his identity in the end – ‘Who is me?’ he says on page 367.

How clever is Hill being? Is he deliberately aping television here? For I couldn’t help thinking of the way Colin Dexter’s Sgt Lewis, nice-but-dim happily married sidekick, has since Morse’s death been transmogrified by television into a lonely and bitter widower with a sudden Morse-like penchant for alcohol and a previously concealed sharpness of mind. You might almost think Hill is taking the micky out of Lewis.

But this book is also, it seems to me, a direct challenge to the television people, daring the adapters to try and adapt this one. And reading novels like this reminds me why I will always prefer a good book to most of the stuff on the telly – even Dalziel and Pascoe.

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