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Let's hear it for the fat man
Back at Eastercon, lukadreaming asked me how I was getting on with my marathon Reginald Hill read. Well, I have now read half of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels. Admittedly, this has been weighted in favour of the recent books, which I still prefer, and I have now, at least, read everything from Dialogues of the Dead to Midnight Fugue.

Apart from A Clubbable Woman, the earliest I have read is number seven, Deadheads, with which I was not very impressed. Number 10, Under World was much better, though I really, really wanted to slap Ellie Pascoe. So I still have to be convinced that the early books, aside from their wonderful ear for Yorkshire dialogue, are anything out of the ordinary. The step change seems to occur somewhere between Exit Lines (which I have not read) and Bones and Silence which is very good indeed. However, the very late novels remain several steps above even these. Again, not having read either On Beulah Heights (top of my remaining list) or Arms and the Women, I don't know where that step-change occurs either. For me, it isn't The Wood Beyond , much recommended, which I struggled to finish. Perhaps because I am very familiar with the Great War/modern day intertwined narratives of Anthony Price, which are more intellectually challenging, and I found the WW1 parts boring and I was not engaged with the characters. The dreams/semi-mystical stuff was just unconvincing.

My favourites? Well, I have already praised Dialogues of the Dead/Death's Jest Book to the heights, and continue to adore and find more in them.

Good Morning, Midnight is a double recursive locked-room mystery combined with an anti-Iraq war rant. References to John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, master of the locked room mystery, do not go unnoticed.

The Death of Dalziel is an excursion – rather like both Good Morning Midnight and Recalled to Life - into the world of the spy thriller.

A Cure for All Diseases takes a little getting into because of the decision to use a series of e-mails from a young woman to set the scene and then take the narrative forward. There are perfectly good reasons for this – the book is a sort-of modern day completion of Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon, the epistolary form was one Austen used, and a series of badly spelled and unpunctuated (save for dashes and the occasional exclamation point) e-mails come close to the way young women wrote at the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th. Once you were over misreading "shed" as a small wooden building instead of "she'd" it was fine. As for Fat Andy's maunderings into his recorder, Mildred – those were a cracking read, and I could have done with more of them. An excellent Austen pastiche, if Austen had written mysteries, though I am sure Jane would not have approved of Fat Andy's language or the overt sex.

I have just finished Midnight Fugue, which is a sudden change of pace again, and, instead of sprawling back into the past, is written in an almost totally linear fashion, taking place in a few tightly timed hours, playing with all the meanings of 'fugue', and meditating on families, friendship, and Fate. A |tour de force.

While doing all this reading, the number of literary references did not escape my notice. From the start, I had sort of felt that, setting aside the vague relationship to Falstaff (and it is very vague), Fat Andy had echoes of earlier Fat Detectives. I must admit that my first thought, and one I have voiced, was of Carter Dickson's Sir Henry Merivale - the great HM.

However, there is Pascoe to consider, and a fat detective who has an intelligent, energetic subordinate – to wit, Nero Wolfe. (The name of Archie's lady, Lily, is even similar in sound to Pascoe's wife, Ellie.) So I made a list of characteristics and found something interesting. In all except that he is very fat and intelligent, Andy Dalziel is the exact opposite of Wolfe! Andy is active and surprisingly fast, while Wolfe is inactive and lazy – and laziness is not one of Andy's many faults. Wolfe is a gourmet, Andy a glutton. Both drink beer, but Andy would not be seen dead with Wolfe's bottled gnat's piss. Andy is a cop, Wolfe a PI. Andy uses expressive and coarse language, while Wolfe is a precise grammatical speaker who hates the vernacular. Andy is a womaniser, while Wolfe is misogynist and is never known to have sex with anyone. Andy is a wild but excellent driver, while Wolfe never drives anywhere himself and, indeed, never leaves his office unless he actually has to. Andy is untidy, and Wolfe obsessively tidy and plainly suffering from OCD (he has a routine from which he very rarely shifts and even then it has to be under dire need – such as someone blowing up the Brownstone!) Wolfe is an expat Montenegrin who is now an American citizen. Dalziel is native Yorkshire, though with Scots ancestry. And so on.

Now, I don't really believe this is anything but co-incidence... or is it? Other of Hill's characters show some resemblances to famous literary creations or real people. Does anyone else think there is a resemblance between Franny Roote and Tom Ripley?

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The earlier books are enjoyable reads, but generally lack the flair and ambition of the later novels. I have always enjoyed UNDER WORLD, and tend to look on it as a marker for Hill ranging wider than 'just' crime fiction -- there is a strong element of social history to it.

Few writers could pull off what Hill did in A CURE FOR ALL DISEASES -- starting with those emails.

As the series progresses, it shows a writer well aware of his heritage (which is why your comparisons to other fictional heroes are so interesting), but not afraid to 'play' with the conventions of the genre. Every time I read a new book from Hill, I particularly enjoy the pleasure he takes from writing and from words and from advancing his characters.

I think he is probably the most accomplished writer working in the genre. I particularly admire the way he does not just repeat his 'formula' but comes up with something fresh every time. The only other crime writer who was so experimental throughout their career - and even then, not as wildly so - was Margery Allingham. (Such as venturing into farce The Beckoning Lady, science fiction The Mind Readers and police procedural The Tiger in the Smoke.)

There's depressingly little experimentation going on in the genre, sadly. Too many long-running series are writing by numbers.

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