One of my favorite authors of crime fiction has passed away.
Reginald Hill was the author of the Dalziel and Pascoe procedurals as well as a number of standalones, and as of 1993, a series featuring private investigator Joe Sixsmith. He also wrote seven thrillers under the name Patrick Ruell. Here’s the complete list.
It’s a large body of work, and its quality was consistently high. I’ve always looked to Hill’s novels for elegant prose, prodigious erudition, ingenious plots, and that wry, biting wit that we Anglophiles so cherish in British writers.
My reading of Reginald Hill’s oeuvre has been pretty much confined to the Dalziel and Pascoe novels. My favorites among them are The Wood Beyond, On Beulah Height, Dialogues of the Dead, Death’s Jest Book, Good morning, Midnight…well, as you can see, I’m having trouble choosing. If I had to pick a masterpiece from the lot, I’d choose On Beulah Height, a crime story which possesses an added dimension of urgency because of a dire situation involving one of the main characters in the series. The psychological acuity at work in this novel took my breath away. In her New York Times review of On Beulah Height, Marilyn Stasio called Reginald Hill “ever the master of form and sorcerer of style.” Click here for an appreciation of Hill’s work that I wrote in 2008.
For the 2007 Smithsonian Tour “Mystery Lovers’ England and Scotland,” Recalled To Life was on our list of suggested reading. This is my brief review, including a lengthy quoted passage:
I had deliberately saved Recalled To Life, a nicely compact mass market paperback, to read on the plane. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would still be reading it on the way back! I am a dedicated reader of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel/Pascoe novels, but I found this one, published here in 1992 and located about half way through the series, to be exceptionally dense and complex. It’s a country house murder, all right, but with an enormous cast of characters; I had trouble keeping track of who was who. Nevertheless, it has all the trademarks of Hill’s wonderful writing. Dalziel in particular is in exceptionally fine fettle here: pushy, coarse, low class – sometimes rather deliberately so – but also capable of compassion and insight. He’s a real brawler, too when the occasion calls for it, which it does several times in this book.
Recalled to Life is named for the title of the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities. Quotes at the head of each chapter are taken from the Dickens work. Hill’s novel is indeed about people being “recalled to life” in various ways: released from prison after over two decades, in the case of one character; given a new, if brief, lease on life as in the case of Ellie Pascoe’s aging mother. Towards the conclusion, as Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are heading north on the A 1, Hill treats us to this poignant, eloquent paragraph, as good an illustration as any of the way in which the British are never very far from an awareness of their rich, extraordinary, and sometimes brutal history:
“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…”
Dwelling in his Cumbrian fastness, Mr. Hill has always avoided the limelight. (This short, lively bio has been on the Random House site for as long as I can remember.) His books will stand as a fitting monument to a life well lived in the realm of literature.