Friday, May 18, 2012

The Wood Beyond by Reginald Hill

I came to this British mystery writer via television. We have been watching the Dalzeil/Pascoe A&E Television series on disk and have found them to be superior to most TV crime shows once acclimated to the Yorkshire accents. In my experience, if I like a movie I will then like the book even more. (It seldom works the other way; if I like a book, the movie is then usually a disappointment.)

Detective Superintendent Andrew Dalziel (prounounced Dee-ell), Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe, and Sergeant Edgar Wield are the team that solves the crimes. The each have distinct personalities and histories. Dalziel is a former rugby player, overweight, not formally educated but street smart. Pascoe is formally educated, happily married and, in this book, has a young daughter who's trying out words like "bloody!" and "fucking great, dad!" Wield is gay and living with a partner; his sexual orientation has given him a interesting perspective on the police, on suspects, and on his duties.

I found Hill's writing superior to most writers, mystery or mainstream. Three random examples:

Dalziel, in his car, is talking to Wield who stands in a pouring rain: "Dalziel...was not a man totally insensitive to the comforts of his inferiors, but the sergeant was swathed in oilskins and the Fat Man could see no reason why the torrents Niagaring around their folds should be diverted to his vehicle's upholstery."

"The nineteenth century had brought the city [of Leeds] closer [to the village of Kirkton] and the twentieth had completed the job, with tentacles of urban sprawl running out like rivulets of Vesuvian lava, threatening, touching, consuming, and finally passing on, leaving a dead and dusty landscape in their wake."

"In appearance the head teacher was far from formidable. With her flowered dresses, flattish shoes, bare legs, bobbed hair, and round, smiling, glowing, almost makeup-less face, she wouldn't have been out of place at a Betjeman tennis tourney."

The Wood Beyond is a mystery; by the end we've got three bodies, and that's not counting the 70-year-old remains that start the investigation. But it's far more than a straightforward mystery puzzle, because Peter's grandfather had been in The Great War and we read large parts of his war diary. By the time we are well into the book, we want to know about the bones animal rights activists have discovered on the grounds of a pharmaceutical research facility, why one of the activists has been apparently killed, what actually happened to Peter's grandfather in the war, and how all these threads tie together.

Because the story is more complex than many novels, mystery and otherwise, the book demands attention. Friends say they could not get through it because of the complexity and because there is a certain amount of Yorkshire dialect and locutions ("owt," "nout" "I were born...." etc.). I, however, agree with the reviewer who said, "Hill's Dalziel/Pascoe novels are enjoyable as much for their characters as for their complicated, suspenseful mystery plots."

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