“What was ‘the wound in his heart’, so painful to see, so difficult to comprehend?” – Thrumpton Hall, by Miranda Seymour

December 31, 2008 at 7:13 pm (Book review, books)

seymour-thrumpton-hall Thrumpton Hall is subtitled, “A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House.” Thrumpton Hall is, in fact, the stately home in Nottinghamshire in which the author and her brother grew up. But there was never any question, really, about whom the house actually belonged to. That person was George Seymour, one of the most self-obsessed and difficult people I’ve ever encountered, in fiction, nonfiction, memoir – anywhere!


The south front of Thrumpton Hall, c.1910.

The reviews I read led me to believe that this book was primarily about George Seymour’s obsession with Thrumpton Hall. The property had actually belonged to Seymour’s aunt and uncle; Seymour spent a great deal of time there as a child. His own father was in the foreign service, and he and Seymour’s mother spent long stretches of time out of the country, often at uncongenial posts. As a young boy, George Seymour conceived a passion for Thrumpton Hall, but this emotion did not exist in isolation. It was part and parcel with his obsession with the rich and titled of England and his desire to be counted as their equal. He was an incorrigible snob.

Poor daughter Miranda! always longing to please this remote, preoccupied, controlling man. It was a goal rarely, if ever, achieved. George Seymour had rigorous standards of propriety, especially where his wife and daughter were concerned.  If he disliked any aspect of their appearance, he told them so in no uncertain terms. He criticized everything: clothes, weight, even hair. When sitting for a 1967 painting of the family taking its ease at Thrumpton, both Miranda and her mother Rosemary were required to wear wigs.

During the postwar era when George Seymour courted her, Rosemary Scott-Ellis was a woman possessed of beauty, liveliness, and grace.  As the years passed, she made the concessions necessary for life with an unimaginative, withholding autocrat. In the doing so, her once proud spirit was almost completely subdued. As Miranda grew to adulthood and was able to view this process with a critical eye, it became yet another reason to resent her father’s stranglehold on his family’s emotional life.

Rosemary Scott-Ellis Seymour was in her eighties at the time that Miranda began work on this book. Mother and daughter eventually arrive at a sort of truce concerning the portrait of George Seymour that gradually emerges in Thrumpton Hall. Rosemary has made it clear that she sees no point in the writing of such a book, and her persistent tendency to defend her late husband’s seemingly indefensible actions exasperates her daughter. (It exasperated me too.) In the midst of a session of reminiscences, Miranda comes to a realization:

“Married to a volatile man with high expectations and a short fuse, my mother had already embarked on the path she kept to throughout her marriage: to comply or keep quiet. When hurt, unnerved or in doubt, she smiled. I do remember smiling more than seemed reasonable. I can’t remember her voice.

Ultimately, Thrumpton Hall is more about the troubled family inhabiting that august edifice than it is about the Hall itself. It is an absorbing, beautifully written, ultimately very poignant story. As I finished the book, a huge tide of sadness welled up in me.

And what about the wounded heart alluded to in the title of this post? George Seymour harbored a secret longing whose nature he concealed from everyone including himself. Gradually, as he entered middle age, it found expression – a rather eccentric expression, involving as it did a new found enthusiasm for motorbikes and motorcycling!

George Seymour

George Seymour in 1945

In conclusion, Miranda Seymour informs the reader that through the machinations of fate (and some tinkering with final bequests),  she now finds herself mistress of Thrumpton Hall. And she is doing what others in a similar position in Britain are doing: throwing the doors open for weddings, parties, conferences, and the like. Come one, come all, to Thrumpton Hall!





Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour

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Big (or at least, interesting) doings at small presses

December 30, 2008 at 6:22 pm (books)

Lately I’ve been having fun with a piece that appeared in the Washington Post Book World on December 21.  In “Collector’s Corner, Where Small (and Often Chilling!) Is Beautiful,” Michael Dirda profiles a number of small presses that are publishing some very intriguing, off-the-beaten-path works. Check out the links; some of these presses have fascinating web pages.

I already knew about  Night Shade Books from their excellent anthology, Eclipse One. Come to find out, Eclipse Two has recently been released by these inventive folks. Some the writers in these collections have a marvelous sense of the absurd; see “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse.”

Here’s a graphic from the Night Shade site:


I often feel this way while blogging!

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Collecting lists of favorites for 2008

December 29, 2008 at 1:51 am (Best of 2008, books, Mystery fiction)

Kerrie, one of my favorite mystery-loving bloggers, has invited fellow crime fiction fans to post their top ten mysteries of the year on her blog, Mysteries in Paradise. She’s got some great lists there already. (Okay, there’s a link to mine – but it’s just one of many!)

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Favorite crime fiction 2008: in a great year for the genre, these ten were the standouts

December 28, 2008 at 1:02 pm (Best of 2008, books, Mystery fiction)

I hasten to add – the standouts for Your Faithful Blogger, at least. With “Best of” lists still pouring in, it’s obvious that there’s lots of room for differing opinions here!

Anyway – here goes:

cold Cold in Hand by John Harvey. Harvey is an author that Marge (my Bouchercon boon companion) and I have long admired and championed. Cold in Hand is a novel that shocks and stuns and is beautifully written. John Harvey seemed to be enjoying himself hugely at Bouchercon this past October. And we enjoyed his enjoyment!

dakar The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson. I’ve fallen behind on my reading of the stellar Scandinavians. As for this particular novel, the humanity of the characters shone throughout and the plot was utterly compelling.

flesh Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell. One of my retirement projects is to go back and read the Rendell/Barbara Vine novels I missed, and the ones I wish to revisit because they were so terrific the first time. At any rate, this Wexford novel shows Rendell writing at the height of her formidable powers. (The next Rendell, a non-Wexford entitled Portobello, is due out here in April; the next Vine, The Birthday Present, in March.)

girl2 The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon. Yet another author who, with each new novel, goes from strength to strength. Guido Brunetti is one of my all time favorite fictional policemen. and Venice, of course, is the setting from Heaven. Leon brings this complex, magical city vividly to life in every novel in this superlative series. (The next entry,  About Face, is due out in April of next year.)

monde Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon. Originally published in 1945 as La Fuite de Monsieur Monde (literally “The Flight of Monsieur Monde”), this was my first venture into the non-Maigret canon of this incredibly prolific author. What I found was a powerful tale of one man’s escape from that favorite target of French intellectuals, the stifling conventions and expectations of the bourgeoisie.

chameleon The Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. I’ve followed this author’s career with interest ever since she burst onto the crime writing scene in 1992 with her remarkably polished and atmospheric first novel, The Ice House. Her next book, The Sculptress, won the coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 1993; the following year, The Scold’s Bridle won the equally prestigious CWA Gold Dagger.  I very much liked all three of these novels, but in the years following, I found that her books did not always work for me. Walters has frequently been likened to Ruth Rendell. I do think she shares with Rendell an unusually degree of insight into the disturbed mind. Is she “another Rendell,” or “on a par with Rendell,” as reviewers love to exclaim? Well, in the opinion of this ardent fan of the oeuvre of Baroness Rendell of Baberg (and isn’t that a fine title, right up there with the Baroness James of Holland Park!) – not quite. But for me, in all fairness, probably no one could be. All the same, when Walters is good, she is very good indeed. And the story she tells of a damaged Iraq War veteran in The Chameleon’s Shadow is without a doubt one of the most compelling works of fiction I read all year.

nouf1 Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris. IMHO, this book would have worked better as a straightforward narrative minus the “detective interruptions.” Still, the writing was so superior, the setting so vividly rendered, and the characters’ pain so palpable that I’m including it here anyway.

pure The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill. This is the second entry in Hilll’s Simon Serrailler series. The first is The Various Haunts of Men; I now wish I had read that novel first. Simon Serailler is part Thomas Lynley, part Adam Dalgliesh, an artist from a distinguished, conflict-ridden family. This is the British police procedural writ large, a regular candy box of a novel. I anxiously await the third entry in the series,  The Risk of Darkness, due out here in March.

graving The Graving Dock by Gabriel Cohen. Does St. Martins Monotaur know what a gem it has in Gabriel Cohen? As I was asking myself this question, I went on their site – and wow! This publisher’s roster includes some of the best in the business: Ken Bruen, Archer Mayor, Ian Rankin,  Kjell Eriksson,  Caroline Graham, Barry Maitland,  Qiu Xiaolong,  Clare Curzon, and many more of that caliber. So…do they have much of an advertising budget, I wonder?  I ask because I hate to see a writer of Cohen’s tremendous talent go undiscovered by discerning readers of crime fiction. In Red Hook, the first novel in this series, we get to know Jack Leightner, a cop who’s struggling with the usual personal and professional demons. Why then are these novels a cut above? Because Leightner is an enormously appealing protagonist, a guy with a good heart that you can’t help but root for. And he’s doing all this struggling in Brooklyn, a locale that Cohen obviously knows well. The venerable borough springs to life in his  assured hands. Do yourself a favor and read these novels. Start with The Graving Dock, the sequel to Red Hook, if you prefer. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

black1 And finally, it’s back to the Scandinavians with Black Seconds by Karin Fossum. I’ve already praised this powerful novel to the skies, but I’m happy to praise it again. Tautly constructed, beautifully written, filled with subtle understanding of and compassion for the pathos of the human condition, it represents crime writing – writing period, for that matter – at its very best.

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Yet more Best Books of 2008

December 26, 2008 at 8:30 pm (Best of 2008, books)

An excellent Best Books list by one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Margaret of Booksplease. I really like the way Margaret used a book-of-the-month organizing principle for presenting her selections.

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Two articles of interest to book lovers

December 25, 2008 at 11:35 pm (Book clubs, books)

“Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?” (New York Times December 7) is about book group strife and what to do about it. Personally,  I’m relieved to have been spared (at least, for the most part) the ” inane critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad chick lit and even worse chardonnay” rather gleefully enumerated by author Joanne Kaufman.

1207 STL Clubs.jpg

This rather entertaining graphic accompanies the article.

One remedy resorted to by some groups involves the hiring of a professional facilitator – someone like Edith Bushell. Bushell states flatly that book clubs seek her help most often “because there’s an ayatollah.” She charges between $250 and $300 per member for her services. (Yep – you read that right!)


“Making Books,” which appeared in the December 21 issue of the Washington Post Book World, is more of a cri de coeur. In fact, where the status of publishing in this country is concerned, author Andre Bernard seems near despair. He begins with the funeral of  “the last lion of publishing,”  Robert Giroux. Fewer than fifty people attended the service, Bernard notes with ill-concealed anger. Things proceed down hill from there.

In recent years, I’ve read many articles about the death of reading and of the book. “Making Books” may be the most depressing of all of them, more because of the bitterness of the author’s tone than the actual content – although that’s dispiriting enough, to be sure.

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Joys of this – or any season

December 24, 2008 at 7:53 pm (Christmas, Music)

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday with the gift of music:

Benjamin Britten’s magical, other worldy Ceremony of Carols, sung by the Westminster Cathedral Choir


Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor, by Alexander Borodin. Performed by the Kirov Opera and Ballet under the direction of Valery Gergiev


Nunc Dimittis by Palestrina. Sung by one of the premier early music vocal group of our times, The Tallis Scholars


Gloria from Bach’s mighty Mass in B minor. Performance by the fabled Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus,  led by Herbert Blomstedt, in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany


I first heard Esto Les Digo, an exquisite choral work by Kinley Lange, at a concert at Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore on December 7.  Here is it sung by the Traverse City Central High School Choir, Traverse City, Michigan (providing us with yet another reason to keep the arts as a vital force in this country’s public schools).


Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter, sung by the Edinburgh Singers


The following clips are from the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the Christmas Eve service held each year in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Grab the round button on the timeline (at the bottom of the video screen) and drag it forward to five minutes. You’ll see the choral scholars serenading the folks who have queued in front of King’s College Chapel, waiting for the service to begin.


Once in Royal David’s City, the carol with which the service traditionally begins


In Dulce Jubilo


Here’s some light entertainment for my fellow cat lovers, or anyone in need of some comic relief!


Here’s a link to other music posts on this blog:


Finally, here is Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus, sung by the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti:

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“Something greater was crumbling inside him, the wall that held the strength of his beliefs…” – Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

December 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

nouf Every once in a while,  a book reveals to me how little I know about a place. Finding Nouf is such a book; the place is Saudi Arabia.

At the age of nineteen, while living in San Francisco,  Zoe Ferraris fell in love with a Saudi-Palestinian Bedouin whom she describes as “hilarious and brilliant and over-the-top zany.”  They married and had a child, at which time her new husband felt they had to return to Saudi Arabia so his family could meet Zoe and their baby daughter. What was supposed to be, at most, a visit of a week or two ended up lasting almost a year. During that time, Ferraris moved inside the country’s strict, intensely devout culture. In the process, she gained valuable insight into life in present-day Saudi Arabia; she uses that insight to stunning effect in Finding Nouf.

Nayir ash-Sharqi, a desert guide, is asked by the family of his close friend Othman to look into the disappearnace of Nouf ash-Shrawi, Othman’s sixteen-year-old sister. Nouf is found, but not by Nayir, and finding her raises a whole host of new questions. Othman beseeches his friend to keep digging until the answers come to light.

In a previous post on crime fiction, I talked about protagonists who harbor a “secret sorrow.”  Nayir’s entire being is pervaded with sorrow – sorrow and profound loneliness. His unorthodox family background makes him an outsider in his own homeland. And his ardent adherence to the tenets of Islam isolates him even further.

This in no way precludes his assenting to Othman’s request. As it happens, Katya Hijazi, an assistant lab worker for the coroner’s office, is Othman’s fiancee. She is thus in a position to help Nayir in his quest to find out the truth about what happened to Nouf. Like Nayir, Katya’s circumstances place her outside conventional society. She lives with her widowed father, and, of course, her status as a working woman puts her even further outside the mainstream. Her life could not be more different than that of the women of the wealthy Shrawi clan, who are confined to the women’s quarter of the family’s vast mansion and hardly ever go out. When she goes to visit them, this is what Katya sees:

“They were gray and wrinkled, obese, most of them, sitting idly on the sofas. Their fat hung in layers from their waists and arm; they looked like sofas themselves.

Katya, a good and kindly soul, feels ashamed of these thoughts but in all honesty, is unable to suppress them.

In Finding Nouf, Zoe Ferraris has painted a vivid picture of life in a culture that is radically different from ours:

“Normally men inhabited these sidewalks, but this early in the morning there were women, as quiet and alert as deer, stealing the opportunity to wander unmolested. A man would be a blot on the picture, his robe glowing brighter than the moon, chasing away the dark shapes of night.

On her site, Ferraris offers this provocative observation: ” The biggest revelation I had in Saudi Arabia was learning that men were just as frustrated by gender segregation as women were.” You will not wonder at this once you’ve read this book. Men and women have virtually no opportunity to meet and socialize in a natural way. Even less do they have the opportunity for deeper intimacy, either of an emotional or sexual nature. Poor Nayir – that is just what he so longs for. And yet the tenets of Islam require him to avert his gaze should a woman bare her face in his presence. Whole courtships are carried without the man ever beholding the visage of his wife-to-be. Once again, Shakespeare’s line returns: “There is no art to see the mind’s construction in the face.” And not just the mind – the heart, as well.

Ferraris has used her singular insight to great effect, creating a character whose sadness, confusion, and lonliness are so palpable that you ache for him:

“Something greater was crumbling inside him, the wall that held the strength of his beliefs, and it hurt to feel himself weakening, to feel this much sympathy for women like Nouf who felt trapped by their lives, by prescriptions of modesty and domesticity that might have suited the Prophet’s wives but that didn’t suit the women of this world, infected as it was by desires to go to school and travel and work and have ever greater options and appetites. He tried not to feel that the world was collapsing, but it was collapsing, and there was nothing he could do, just watch it with a painful, bitter sense of loss.

You can see by this passage that Nayir is deeply ambivalent about the struggle of women to attain some parity of opportunity with men. The precepts of his religion matter a great deal to him; he has a naturally conservative temperament. But this investigation is changing him. In particular, working with Katya Hijazi is changing him.

The author frequently refers to the Quran [her transliteration of the word]  and notes the beauty of expression and the wisdom to be found therein. For instance, an apt text occurs to Nayir as he observes  Mutlaq, an expert tracker called in to assist with the inquiry:

“Nayir watched with admiration. He was like a search-and-rescue man who knows a terrain well enough to know its secrets, only Mutlaq’s territory was a landscape in miniature, the hills and valleys of a footprint ridge. In the fact that Allah sends down sustenance from the sky, and revivies the Earth after its death, and in the change of the Winds, are signs for those that are wise. Allah could be known by His signs, and the scenery of the world was one of the biggest; but Mutlaq’s scenery, being smaller and manmade, held its own divine secrets.

You’ve probably deduced by now that I love the way this woman writes. Here she describes the noonday heat in one of the hottest places on Earth:

“It was the worst kind of noon, overbright and muggy and seared by a sun that had expanded to fill every bit of the sky. A steamy, breathless, penetrating air poured like liquid lava onto every surface, causing ripples of heat, sharp glints of light, and such mirages as might have isled an entire army into the very hottest part of hell.

Finding Nouf is impressive accomplishment for a first time author – or for any author. I do, however, have one reservation, and one caveat. The reservation concerns the novel’s structure. In my opinion, Ferraris would have done better to discard the crime fiction elements from this work: they were obtrusive, confusing, and in some unfortunate instances, ludicrous. I did not want to read about a teen-age girl stealing a truck from the family compound, loading a camel onto the flatbed, etc. Also, Ferraris plants evidence – manure on the victim’s wrist, for example –  in ways that startled me and seemed repetitive and extraneous. It was as though she were trying to stuff an obese woman into a tiny dress. A bad fit, in other words. Still, Ferraris richly evokes a strange, almost claustrophobic society – complete with religious police! – and the very real, vulnerable human beings attempting to survive and lead good lives within its strictures. The memorable portrait she paints and the beautiful writing with which she does so more than compensate for the structural deficits.

The caveat? for me, at least, this book didn’t just “take off.” For the first fifty pages or so, I felt as though picking it up were a duty to which I was bound (an appropriate feeling, actually, as I was reading it for a book group discussion). Gradually I began to feel enveloped in the world Zoe Ferraris had created. Then I couldn’t put her luminous novel down.

Zoe Ferraris

Zoe Ferraris

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One more good reason to love God’s creatures

December 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm (Animals, Current affairs)

This is Sheru, aka Lion Heart, with his caregivers:


This is his story.

First, you see humans doing their worst. Then you see them doing and being their best.

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Reginald Hill, “sorcerer of style”

December 21, 2008 at 2:18 am (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

beulah “Ever the master of form and sorcerer of style” – that’s what Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times called Reginald Hill in her 1998 review of On Beulah Height. At the time, I had just begun reading Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. I knew I liked the way this guy wrote, but I didn’t know just how much until I read On Beulah Height. This is not just a brilliant mystery – it’s a brilliant novel in any genre, or all genres.

passion Lately, the Dalziel and Pascoe books have been longer and more widely spaced than in past years. (This reminds me of the trajectory of the P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh series.) A while back I was feeling the need of a Reg Hill fix, so I went back to an earlier (1973) series entry that I had never read: Ruling Passion, the third in the series. Here we find Peter Pascoe only a Detective-Sergeant (as opposed to his current rank, Detective Chief Inspector. There was never much doubt that Pascoe was a comer.) He and Ellie are lovers – but will they marry? All signs are affirmative.

Ellie Soper Pascoe (as she becomes in fairly short order) is one of my favorite continuing characters in this series. She’s quite the spitfire – an unapologetic feminist and aspiring novelist. Initially, she is not a fan of Peter’s boss, the larger-than-life – in every way! – Andy Dalziel. For his part, Andy describes Ellie in these colorful terms: “authentic liberal radical left-wing pink Dalziel-hating.”  Though it makes Peter anxious, these two love to spar.

butchers1 The latest novel in this series has been released in this country with a rather odious title:  The Price of Butcher’s Meat. The British title,  A Cure for All Diseases, is taken from a passage in Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne: “We all labour against our own cure, for death is the cure for all diseases.” This is quoted in the front of the British edition and is very apt, considering that the novel takes place in a seaside town – Sandytown – that styles itself as a haven for those seeking both conventional and alternative treatments for whatever ails them. The American title comes from a passage in Sanditon, an unfinished novel by Jane Austen:

“Aye–that young Lady smiles I see–but she will come to care about such matters herself in time. Yes, Yes, my Dear, depend upon it, you will be thinking of the price of Butcher’s meat in time.

I think I see the connection to the book’s plot, but it is far more oblique than the quotation from Browne. And besides which – yes, it is from a Jane Austen work, and I don’t wish to blaspheme, but..THAT TITLE IS JUST PLAIN UGLY! And George Easter of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine (Fall 2008) agrees with me:

“I find it interesting that not only did the titles change, but also the quotes (that form the basis for the titles) found inside the books. Personally I like the title A Cure for All Diseases more than the other title. Don’t know why the American publisher wanted to change it to what I consider an inferior title.

At Bouchercon (where I attended a panel moderated by George Easter), we were told that publishers switch titles this way because they claim to know their audience, at least better than the rest of us poor slobs do. Sorry, but in this instance, at least, I think they screwed up.

So in what sense, you may fairly ask yourself, is Reginald Hill a master stylist? Well, there’s dialogue shot through with witty ripostes, for one thing. Here, Dalziel recollects a conversation he had recently with Franny Roote, a mysterious chameleon-like character who threads his way ominously throughout this series.

Franny: ‘Doesn’t Paul tell us that the love of money is the root of all evil?’

Dalziel: ‘Paul? Though that were one of Ringo’s.’

Here’s Andy deciding whether to confess to “Cap” Marvel, his girlfriend, about a recent indiscretion – or not:  “So I’ll sit on that till I know what it is I’m sitting on, as the actress said to the bishop.”

Andy is legendary for his earthy irreverence. Speaking in a broad, Yorkshire dialect, he delights in taking potshots at what he perceives as pretentious blather. Pascoe is often on the receiving end of these jibes; unlike his boss, he’s got a university education and isn’t above flaunting his erudition from time to time. Hill himself, a graduate of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford (1960),  has plenty of erudition of his own stored up for  use at strategic junctures. Here he describes one of the book’s female characters, the rich and imperious Daphne Denham, as “not quite yet ‘Venus toute entiere a sa proie attachee.'”

I was well and truly flummoxed by that one, despite my (admittedly rudimentary) knowledge of French.  A search disclosed that it is a quote from the play Phedre by Jean Racine. In an essay on classic French literature entitled “On Love,” Michael Dirda explains that  in that passage, the playwright depicts the Goddess of Love  as  “… a bird of prey, tearing into her victim with claws that will never let go.”

Here’s another snippet of dialogue featuring the strangely ubiquitous Franny Roote and the no-nonsense (and indispensable to Pascoe) Detective Sergeant Edgar Wield. First we have Roote intoning the following:

“‘Fate may have decreed I live my life like a gnome, but I try to record it like a gnomon, telling only the sunlit hours.”

He paused as if anticipating applause, though whether for his mental resolution or verbal convolution wasn’t clear. Wield’s face remained as unreadable as a footballer’s biography.

“Gnomon” sent me scurrying to the dictionary: it is “a column or pin on a sundial, etc. that casts a shadow indicating the time of day.” And as for the footballer’s biography, I can only conclude that like us, the British are enduring an outbreak of semi-literate and/or ghost written ‘memoirs’ from dubious celebrity sources.

Hill’s prose is likewise shot through with memorable decriptive passages. My all time favorite is this, from Recalled To Life:

“This was the Great North Road, or had been before modern traffic made it necessary for roads to miss the townships they had once joined. Hatfield they passed, where Elizabeth the First learned of her accession, and Hitchin, where George Chapman translated Homer into English and John Keats into the realms of gold; Biggleswade where the Romans, driving their own road north, forded a river and founded a town; Norman Cross, near which a bronze eagle broods over the memory of eighteen hundred of Napoleon’s dead, not on a field of battle but in a British prison camp; then into what had been Rutland before it was destroyed by little men whose power outstripped their vision by a Scotch mile; and now began the long flat acres of Lincolnshire, and the road ran by Stamford, once the busy capital of the Fens and later badly damaged during the Wars of the Roses; and Grantham, where God said, ‘let Newton be,’ and there was light, though in a later century the same town ushered in some of the country’s most twilit years…”

Finally, I treasure this author because his characters do not indulge in tiresome, humorless soul searching, nor do they indulge in lengthy, melodramatic confrontations over who’s sleeping with/lusting after whom. In other words, they exist to entertain rather than irritate. That said, I have to say that IMHO, Butcher’s Meat is not the place for a neophyte to get started on Reginald Hill’s oeuvre. This is not his most accessible novel, beginning as it does with a lengthy series of e-mails from a secondary character, Charlotte “Charley” Heywood, to her sister in Africa. These are interspersed with italicized interior monologues courtesy of Andy Dalziel. Conventional narrative does not appear until almost a third of the way into the novel. Butcher’s Meat sprawls, clocking in at just over 500 pages. It has a bewilderingly large cast of characters, but it doesn’t have Ellie Pascoe, whose bracing, acerbic presence I missed.

I think that a reader new to this series would do well to start with The Wood Beyond (1995), or, if you’d rather not go back that far, Dialogues of the Dead (2002).



Just make sure that at some point, you read On Beulah Height, in which Hill mixes memory and desire, to stunning effect.

Reginald Hill, photographed by Nigel Hillier

Reginald Hill, photographed by Nigel Hillier

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