At some point in the 1980s, Britain started pumping out crime fiction by authors who literary darlings could feel smug about admitting they slum it with: Colin Dexter, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, and today’s experiment, Reginald Hill, among others — authors I’ve sampled here and there and who generally leave me cold. My precise objection to them is difficult to pin down, but they seem to me to be forcing upon the genre a staid acceptability it neither needed nor flourishes under, and that’s something I can’t get further into without reading more of it…and, well, I’m reluctant to do that. A Killing Kindness (1980) perfectly exemplifies why.
I picked this, the sixth case for Hill’s much-admired duo of Dalziel and Pascoe, because a promise was made by someone — I have a feeling it was Sergio, a most trustworthy soul — of some audacity in its solution, and so misgivings were cast aside and off I went. And Sergio is indeed correct — the trick Hill plays here is audacious in a quite staggering way…but it’s also a kind of clever-clever gamesmanship that thinks it’s more brilliant than it really is, pales in comparison to the intelligence of the genre that preceded it, and doesn’t pay out in the way Hill seems to think it does. At the end of a fifteen-page short story, perhaps; 371 pages of novel, however, need to be set upon firmer foundations.
Hill, though, does write some wonderful stuff. Following a series of stranglings being established with a brevity that most of today’s ‘suspense’ authors would do well to study, a confusion around the invoking of a spirit medium sees an unimpressed Superintendent Andy ‘The Fat Man’ Dalziel “raising a huge right hand which was attempting to squeeze the printing ink out of a rolled up copy of the local newspaper” while DI Peter Pascoe enjoys Sergeant Wield looking on in horror:
“Oh, stop standing there as if you’d crapped yourself,” said Dalziel wearily.
“Think I may have, sir,” said Wield.