Crime Fiction Alphabet: Letter H

Letter HThis week it’s time for the letter H in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet and I’ve chosen Reginald Hill’s Exit Lines, which is a Dalziel and Pascoe crime novel.

I first knew of Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) and Pascoe from the BBC television series starring Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan, without realising that the stories were based on Reginald Hill’s books. I’ve since read a few of the books and not in the order Hill wrote them, although I have read the first one that introduced Chief Superintendent Andy Dalziel and DS Peter Pascoe – A Clubbable Woman, first published in 1970. There are now 24 in the Dalziel and Pascoe series.

Reginald Hill grew up in Cumbria and is a former resident of Yorkshire, which is the setting for his police procedural novels. After serving in the army he went to Oxford University and then became a teacher, before giving that career up in 1980 to be a full-time writer. He has won numerous awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for his lifetime contribution to the genre. He has also written another mystery series featuring Joe Sixsmith and numerous other books, including some under the pseudonyms Patrick Ruell, Dick Morland and Charles Underhill.

Exit Lines, first published in 1984 is the eighth book in the series and Pascoe is now a Detective Inspector. He and Ellie, his wife are celebrating their daughter’s first birthday on a cold and storm-racked November night when he is called out to investigate the death of an old man found in his bath bruised and bleeding. This is just the first of three deaths that night. All three victims were elderly and died violently and a drunken Dalziel is a suspect in one as it seems he was driving the car that hit an elderly cyclist. The third victim was found dying, having fallen whilst crossing the recreation ground.

Each chapter is headed with famous last words – exit lines from literary and historical people, such as George V – ‘Bugger Bogner’ and Oscar Wilde – ‘Either this wallpaper goes or I do’.  The emphasis is on death and dying, and the ageing process is alarmingly illustrated not only through the lives of the victims but also by the sad portrayal of Ellie’s father as his senile dementia develops.

The plot is intricate, each separate case being linked in one way or another. There is some comic relief in the character of Constable Tony Hector, nicknamed ‘Maggie’s Moron’:

PC Hector had been the first officer on the scene and was therefore a potential source of illuminating insights. Unfortunately he was to Pascoe the last person he would have wished first. His principal qualification for the police force seemed to be his height. He was fully six feet six inches upright, though at some stage in his growth he had reached a level of embarrassment which provoked him to shave off the six inches by curving his spine forward like a bent bow and sinking his head so far between his shoulders that he gave the impression that he was wearing a coat-hanger beneath his tunic.

Although Dalziel  denies he was driving the car that hit the cyclist his actions are extremely suspect and he is sidelined, Pascoe leading the investigations. Just what Dalziel was up to doesn’t become clear until the end of the book. Exit Linesis an excellent crime fiction novel which kept me guessing until the end, and although I did have an inkling about Dalziel’s actions, the causes of the three deaths were a surprise to me.