Reginald Hill is dead

by Harry on January 15, 2012

Guardian obit here. Whenever I have written about mysteries on CT, Henry has put in a word for Reginald Hill. Quite rightly: by the late eighties Hill was one of the 3 or 4 best mystery writers in the English language, and, of that group, the most effortlessly enjoyable (the others?: James, Barnard, and, until he died, Symons. Go on, tell me I’m wrong). He is most famous for his Dalziel and Pascoe books, mainly for the combination of complex plotting, interesting delightful characters, and many very comedic moments. The first 5 or 6 are fairly straightforward whodunnit/police procedurals (with the exception of Deadheads which defies one of the central conventions of the whodunnit), but one reason Hill became so good is that he experimented, frequently, in the novels, with style, format, and, increasingly often, convention. Most of his non-series books (his other series about Joe Sixmith, a black detective in Luton, was much more relentlessly humorous) were written in the 70s and early 80’s, often under pseudonyms (he has published under at least 4 names, maybe more), before he got to be really good. But the last two were brilliant, especially The Woodcutter, which is riveting, as good as any of the Dalziel/Pascoe books.

Or as good as any so far. Honestly, I was expecting him to live another 15 years at least, yielding 5 or 6 more, so was sickened when I read my mum’s email this morning, which started “No more Dalziel..”. But, according the wiki page, there is one more to come, which this page seems to confirm. So, one more to come.



Jeffrey Davis 01.15.12 at 10:03 pm

I love Hill’s books and, of course, the character of Dalziel is fantastic, but Pascoe’s wife was a major miscalculation. (And not just in the TV series.)


Cambridge Chuck 01.15.12 at 10:12 pm

Russell Hoban last month, Reginald Hill this month; a dark winter for readers. Hill’s sly and easy allusions to classical literature always give a frisson, certainly and especially in Arms and the Women. His treatment of late-blooming gay Sergeant Wield was always respectful — actually, he treated all characters with respect, even when he’d plot them into a farcical joke that even they would have to recognize. Like you, I’d figured on at least five more to carry me in my dotage, which will be the poorer for his death.


Meredith 01.15.12 at 11:38 pm

I am stunned. How can Reginald Hill have died on me? A true loss.
To the recent dead of truly great (mystery) writers, let me add Magdalen Nabb.
To the still living, let me add Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine).
I agree with @1, Elie Pascoe often irritating, a miscalculation. But even there, I always appreciated Hill’s openness, earnest but also joyful (sort of what Pascoe and Daziel share in their very different styles), his desire to explore perspectives not fully his own, his love of people.
Truly a loss.


Harry 01.15.12 at 11:53 pm

I think he adored Ellie Pascoe, not as much as Sayers adored Wimsey, but… Dalziel’s attitude to her reflected that. And I know he did not like the way she was on the TV series (which I have never seen even a minute of, but now I know Alan PLater wrote for it I will). I actually thought she got better over time. As did they all. And she and Wield would each sometimes be the centre of attention, which is unusual in a series (remember Pictures of Perfection, which spurns several conventions, and is one of his best, but the absolute worst to have as the first one you read.


Meredith 01.16.12 at 1:04 am

Yes, the triangulation of Dalziel, Ellie, and Pascoe — with Wield as a key “outsider/insider” — creates the dynamics out of which each character takes shape. Maybe because I always identify with Dalziel and/or Pascoe, but am in “real life” more an Ellie, I can find her irritating! She is the locus of my own contradictions….


hylen 01.16.12 at 3:13 am

Bill James, you mean, right?  :)

And yes, Reginald Hill will be missed.


Ian 01.16.12 at 4:03 am

Terrible news. My favourite is On Beulah Height, but Bones and Silence, Pictures of Perfection, and Arms and the Women come very close.


Z 01.16.12 at 8:33 am

remember Pictures of Perfection, which spurns several conventions, and is one of his best, but the absolute worst to have as the first one you read

Which raises the natural question: would you go as far as to name one of the books in the series as a good one to start with to a reader who had never heard of Dalziel and Pascoe before today?


hellblazer 01.16.12 at 8:55 am

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest Death of Dalziel, as it was (under the NA title of “Death Comes For The Fat Man”) the first D&P book I read. I had a dim memory of the TV show, but no other idea of what the books might be like, and was immediately hooked by Hill’s allusive tone, skillful turn of phrase, and arrangement of his cast.

Was lucky enough to get that copy signed at a book festival; throughout he appeared a real gent, and not remotely precious or ungracious.

I suppose that such a late book doesn’t give a full flavor of the series. Perhaps The Wood Beyond? The short stories also aren’t too bad an introduction. On Beulah Height is the one that impresses me most, but it might be unrepresentative (as well as one of the grimmest).


Harry 01.16.12 at 2:36 pm

I’d say Underworld, or Bones and Silence; you can perfectly well go back and read the previous ones afterward without loss of important narrative, but if you start later, then there’s an interdependence you are losing. Bones and Silence is better than Underworld, but Underworld is better than any that came before.


Margaret 01.16.12 at 3:37 pm

Very sad news indeed, particularly since I found The Woodcutter, which I did not expect to enjoy (No D & P, most recent D & P disappointing) instead riveting. But I have never found Ellie irritating. What is the matter with you people?


mrearl 01.16.12 at 4:37 pm

Indeed about Ellie. I’m married to one such, and it certainly keeps things interesting. What *is* the matter with you people?

In seriousness, I’d recommend starting with one or two of the earlier D&P novels, after which you may skip to the middle (if you must) to see how the characters have developed, but only then should you try the later works. They can’t be appreciated otherwise.
And disregard the TV thing entirely.


Harry 01.16.12 at 4:59 pm

I might add that, after becoming a fan, I discovered my dad knew him at University (they overlapped at St. Cats; my dad was the first cohort to miss national service which, it recently occurred to me, must have made going to university much more competitive, since they, and the next cohort, were competing for places with everyone who was leaving national service). He (my dad), knowing my tastes, asked if I’d read any, and what I thought. I told him, and discovered that he had read a few in the seventies and thought they weren’t as good as he anticipated. I told him to read from 1988 on. He said that Hill “knew who he was”. I once saw him (Hill) give a talk at the mystery bookstore down the road from my house, and wish now I’d had the patience to wait for the many people who talked to him afterward to dissipate and said hello from my dad.


Margaret 01.16.12 at 7:00 pm

Read from 1988 on? I’m not so sure about that. You are leaving out The Spy’s Wife, which is admirable, also A Fairly Dangerous Thing. Once when I had a fellowship at Madison and a carrel in the library ostensibly to aid me in my scholarly work, I discovered the library had a cache of early Reginald Hill’s under various names, which I read voraciously on the bus home. I’ve never read any of his sci-fi however under the name of Dick Morland. Has anyone?


Harry 01.16.12 at 10:20 pm

I have read the Dick Morland one (in fact I think I have read everything except some of the Joe Sixsmiths)– its less sci-fi than dystopia, rather like the TV show 1990, but no right wing subtext. I liked it a lot, but I like that sort of thing. Yes, there are some really great pre-1988 books, but I knew he would only ever read 2 or 3, so wanted to specify a date after which they would be reliably terrific. I’d forgotten The Spy’s Wife. It occurs to me that a number of his books (like that one) would bear rereading (I read pretty much everything up to 1993 in the 3 years prior to 1993, so they’re not all in my head now).

While we’re at it, the only JB Priestley book I have ever read is Salt is Leaving, a sort of police procedural, which I can recommend without reservation.


Theophylact 01.16.12 at 10:21 pm

As great a loss as Michael Dibdin.


Meg Born 01.17.12 at 8:25 am

Upsetting news. He was one of the “Greats.” I too expected to read him for many years to come. He will be greatly missed.


mrearl 01.17.12 at 4:48 pm

At least as great a loss as Dibdin. We can hope that Ian Rankin brings Rebus out of retirement, though odds are slim, and we can pray for the continued health of Peter Robinson, whose DCI Banks is the best policeman of them all.


Harry 01.17.12 at 9:18 pm

I like Robinson a lot, but find Banks’s personal life quite irritating. I like a cop that I can like, which is not Banks.

Talking of which, are Susan Hill’s Serraillier (sp?) novels an elaborate joke?

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