A – Z of TBRs: S and T

I’m now up to S and T in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all.



– is for The Stranger House by Reginald Hilla book I’ve had a mere two years. I bought this because I love Hill’s books.

It’s a stand-alone book, a psychological thriller – no Dalziel and Pasco in this book. It’s set in Cumbria in a fictitious valley, Skaddale and village, Illthwaite, where the Stranger House offers refuge to travellers – people like Australian, Samantha Flood and Miguel Madero, a Spanish historian. The two of whom uncover intertwining tales of murder, betrayal and love. There are dark mysteries at the heart of this ancient place.

[Miguel] entered the Seminary in Seville at the age of twenty-three at the same time as nineteen-year-old Sam Flood entered Melbourne University, both convinced they knew exactly what they were doing and where the paths of their lives were leading them.

And yet neither yet understanding that a particular path is not a prospectus and that it may, in the instant it takes for a word to be spoken or a finger-hold to be lost, slip right off your map and lead you somewhere unimagined in all your certainties.

In the cases of Sam Flood and Miguel Madero this place was situated far to the north. (page 22)


S – is also for Slipstream: A Memoir by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923 – 2014), the author of the Cazalet Chronicles. I’ve been meaning to read this for so long – it’s been on my shelves for 11 years, would you believe! It was published in 2002 when she was seventy nine.

This quotation comes from the final chapter of the book:

For the last two years while I have been writing this, I have been getting noticeably older. Getting old is a classic slipstream situation. It’s rather like that game Grandmother’s footsteps. I stand at the end of a lawn with my back to a row of the trappings of old age whose object is to reach me before I turn round and send them back to their row. One or two of these have caught me during the last five years: I have neither the health or the energy that once I had. In these respects I am not as young as I feel. Arthritis is dispiriting because it is both painful and incurable, and it takes time to become reconciled to it. I can’t – like my friend Penelope Lively – garden any more and that is for both of us a privation.

But on the plus side,  I am able to go on writing, I can sew and cook and have friends to stay and above all I can read. I continue to go to my women’s group; I can still learn. One of the good things about living longer is that we have more time to learn how to be old. It is clear to me now that inside the conspiracy of silence about age – because of the negative aspects of the condition – there is the possibility of art; that is to say that it can be made into something worth trying to do well, a challenge, an adventure. I don’t want to live with any sort of retirement, with nostalgia and regret wrapped round me like a wet blanket. I want to live enquiringly, with curiosity and interest for the rest of my life. (page 476)

T– is for The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, a book I’ve had for three years. She is probably best known for her children’s books – the Moomin stories. I haven’t read those or any of her books for adults. But a few years ago I kept seeing her name cropping up on book blogs and thought I would like her books. This one is set in winter in a Swedish hamlet. A strange young woman fakes a break-in at the house of Anna Aemelin, an elderly artist, to persuade her that she needs companionship.

Her parents had lived long lives and never allowed anyone to cut trees in their woods. They’d been rich as trolls when they died. And the woods were still untouchable. Little by little they had grown almost impenetrable and stood like a wall behind the house; the ‘rabbit house’, they called it in the village. It was a grey wood villa with elaborate carved window frames in white, as grey-white as the tall backdrop of snow-drenched forest. The building actually resembled a large, crouched rabbit – the square front teeth of the white veranda curtains, the silly bay windows under eyebrows of snow, the vigilant ears of the chimneys. All the windows were dark. The path up the hill had not been shovelled.

That’s where she lives. Mats and I will live there too. But I have to wait. I need to think carefully before I give this Anna Aemelin an important place in my life. (pages 30-1)

T is also for The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, another book I’ve had for 11 years! It was the 2006 Costa Book of the Year.looking at it now I think one of the reasons I haven’t read it yet is that it appears to be written in a mix of the present and past tenses.

Set in 1867 in Canada, on the isolated settlement of Dove River a man has been brutally murdered, a woman finds his body and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. She has to clear his name, heading north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it …

In this extract Thomas Sturrock is listening to a conversation between two men when he just has to ask them who they are discussing – is it a trader?

‘A Frenchie trader in Dove River was murdered. I don’t know if there’s more than one such there.’

‘I don’t think there is. You didn’t hear a name by any chance?’

‘Not that I remember off the top of my head – something French, is all I recall.’

‘The name of my acquaintance is Laurent Jammet’.

The man’s eyes light up with pleasure. ‘Well I’m sorry, I truly am, but I think that was the name that was mentioned.’

Sturrock falls uncharacteristically silent. He has had to deal with many shocks in his long career, and his mind is already working out the repercussions of this news. Tragic, obviously for Jammet. Worrying, at the least for him. For there is unfinished business there that he has been very keen to conclude, awaiting only the financial means to do so. Now that Jammet is dead, the business must be concluded as soon as possible, or the chance may slip out of his reach for good. (pages 34-5)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

My Reginald Hill Reading Project

Inspired by reading Reginald Hill’s Bones and Silence recently I decided I want to read more of his books and I’ve made a page to record my progress. When I visited two secondhand bookshops this last week I stocked up on as many of his books that were on the shelves that I haven’t read:


They are all Dalziel and Pascoe novels, apart from The Collaborators, which is a standalone novel set in 1945 in Paris. From the top down they are (synopses from Amazon, essentially the blurbs on the back covers) :

  • Dialogues of the Dead: A man drowns. Another dies in a motorbike crash. Two accidents ‘¦ yet in a pair of so-called Dialogues sent to the Mid-Yorkshire Gazette as entries in a short story competition, someone seems to be taking responsibility for the deaths.In Mid-Yorkshire CID these claims are greeted with disbelief. But when the story is leaked to television and a third indisputable murder takes place, Dalziel and Pascoe find themselves playing a game no one knows the rules of against an opponent known only as the Wordman.
  • The Collaborators:Paris, 1945. In the aftermath of the French liberation, Janine Simonian stands accused of passing secret information to the Nazis.She is dragged from her cell before jeering crowds, to face a jury of former Resistance members who are out for her blood. Standing bravely in court, Janine pleads guilty to all charges.Why did Janine betray, not just her country, but her own husband? Why did so many French men and women collaborate with the Nazis, while others gave their lives in resistance?What follows is a story of conscience and sacrifice that portrays the impossible choice between personal and national loyalty during the Nazi occupation.
  • Child’s Play:When Geraldine Lomas dies, her huge fortune is left to an animal rights organization, a fascist front and a services benevolent fund. But at her funeral a middle-aged man steps forward, claiming to be her long-lost son and rightful heir.He is later found shot dead in the police car park, leaving behind a multitude of suspects. And Superintendent Dalziel and Peter Pascoe find themselves plunged into an investigation that makes most of their previous cases look like child’s play’¦
  • On Beulah Height:Fifteen years ago they moved everyone out of Dendale. They needed a new reservoir and an old community seemed a cheap price to pay. But four inhabitants of the valley could not be moved, for nobody knew where they were: three little girls who had gone missing, and the prime suspect in their disappearance, Benny Lightfoot.This was Andy Dalziel’s worst case and now he looks set to relive it. Another child goes missing in the next valley, and old fears arise as someone sprays the deadly message on Danby bridge: BENNY’S BACK!
  • Midnight Fugue:Gina Wolfe is searching for her missing husband, believed dead, and hopes Superintendent Andy Dalziel can help. What neither realize is that there are others on the same trail. A tabloid hack with some awkward enquiries about an ambitious MP’s father. The politician’s secretary who shares his suspicions. The ruthless entrepreneur in question ‘“ and the two henchmen out to make sure the past stays in the past.Four stories, two mismatched detectives trying to figure it all out, and 24 hours in which to do it: Dalziel and Pascoe are about to learn the hard way exactly how much difference a day makes’¦

Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill

I found a lot to enjoy in Bones and Silence, Reginald Hill’s 11th book in his Dalziel and Pascoe series, first published in 1990.

Blurb (from the back cover):

When Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel witnesses a bizarre murder across the street from his own back garden, he is quite sure who the culprit is. After all, he’s got to believe in what he sees with his own eyes. But what exactly does he see? And is he mistaken? Peter Pascoe thinks so.

Dalziel senses the doubters around him, which only strengthens his resolve. To make matters worse, he’s being pestered by an anonymous letter-writer threatening suicide. Worse still, Pascoe seems intent on reminding him of the fact.

Meanwhile the effervescent Eileen Chung is directing the Mystery Plays. And who does she have in mind for God? Dalziel of course. He shouldn’t have too much difficulty in acting the part …

My thoughts:

I liked all the complications of plot and sub-plots in this book and the interplay of the characters. It’s full of interesting characters and humour, but it is the plot that takes precedence. It is so tricky, with numerous red herrings and plot twists. Dalziel is positive that he saw Philip Swain shoot his wife; shooting her at close range, destroying much of her face and removing the top of her head. But Swain insists it was an accident – he was trying to stop her from killing herself and the gun went off. The only other witness, Greg Waterson, backs up Swain’s story – and then disappears.

My image of Dalziel comes from Warren Clark’s portrayal of him in the TV series because I watched the programmes before I read any of Hill’s books. To me Warren Clarke is Dalziel, just as David Suchet is Poirot. Dalziel is a larger than life character, speaks his mind and is never politically correct. He is is positive in his belief in Swain’s guilt even when everyone else thinks his wife’s death was an accident:

Andrew Dalziel, despite what his friends said, was no paranoiac. He did not believe himself to be infallibly perfect or unjustly persecuted. His great strength was that he walked away from his mistakes like a horse from its droppings, and as he himself once remarked, if you leave crap on people’s carpets, you’ve got to expect a bit of persecution.

But when he believed himself right, he did not readily accept evidence that he might be wrong, not while there was any stone left unturned. (page 242)

But it doesn’t help that Swain has been cast in the role of the devil opposite Dalziel’s God in the mystery play and the two are constantly sparring. The whole sub-plot of the mystery play is brilliant. Each Part of the book is headed by a quotation from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays, each one relevant to the events that follow. And the vision of Dalziel as God is so funny, especially when the fat man has to climb a narrow ladder up the back of a triple decker stage mounted on a flat car. Dalziel has to sit on a tiny platform over the upper deck, perched above polystyrene clouds.

Pascoe has recently returned to work after a period of sick leave, following an accident and, impatient to find evidence against Swain, Dalziel delegates the anonymous letters to Pascoe to discover who has been sending them. This sub-plot about the identity of the letter writer is the only part of the book that I’m not sure about. I had several thoughts about who it could be, but I was wrong and in the end when the author was revealed I wasn’t completely convinced that that character could have known all the information given in the letters. Still, it makes a dramatic conclusion to the book and came as a complete surprise to me.

Although Bones and Silence is a long book (524 pages) I read it quite quickly, completely absorbed in its mysteries and impressed both with the ingenuity of the plot and the quality of the writing. I really mustn’t leave it very long before I read some more of Reginald Hill’s books.

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (25 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007313128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007313129
  • Source: I bought the book

Reginald Charles Hill FRSL (3 April 1936 ‘“ 12 January 2012) was an English crime writer, and the winner in 1995 of the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016 – a book I’ve owned for four years.

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.

Book Notes

These are notes on a couple of books I’ve read recently. They didn’t send me rushing to the computer to write about them, but they were good enough to finish.

I wrote a bit about Solar by Ian McEwan in a Teaser Tuesday post, whilst I was still reading it.

Opinion on Amazon is pretty much spread across the board, almost as many people  giving it five stars as those giving it one star. I thought it was OK, not as good as Atonement or Enduring Love both of which I loved.

It’s a story of greed, self-deception as well as climate science, global warming and photovoltaics.  The book is in three sections, 2000, 2005 and 2009 following the life of Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize winning physicist whose fifth marriage has failed.  His previous marriages had all ended due to his womanising,  but this time it’s his wife who has an affair and he can’t stand it. Beard is an unlikeable character, bemoaning his weight, overeating and drinking to excess, lecturing and lechering, stealing his colleagues research and setting up his wife’s lover for murder:

He was self-sufficient, self-absorbed, his mind a cluster of appetites and dreamy thoughts. Like many clever men who prize objectivity, he was a solipsist at heart , and in his heart was a nugget of ice … (page 169)

There are some interesting and some not so interesting parts to this book, some of it great and some not so great. It seemed as though it was really three episodes rather than one story.

The Turning of the Tide by Reginald Hill was originally published under the pseudonym of Patrick Ruell in 1971 as The Castle of the Demon. It’s described on the book jacket as an ‘intricately plotted thriller’. Emily has left her husband, the enigmatic Sterne Follett and is staying in Skinburness, a coastal town on the Solway Firth. At first the reasons for her doing this are not revealed. A sequence of sinister events unfolds, a body is found and Emily realises that her husband is involved – just how or why she has yet to discover.

Emily is staying in a house facing the long spit of land called the Grune, a sandy raised shingle beach. She suspects someone has been in the house, moving her things, she sees a green face looking in the window at her, an American staying at the local hotel goes missing, there are two archaeologists digging in a patch of furze and gorse. Then she is attacked whilst walking back from the hotel. She doesn’t know who to trust.

I wasn’t totally convinced by the plot, although there is plenty of tension. There was no way I would have guessed the outcome which I thought was a bit far-fetched. The descriptions of the location, however are very good:

They walked along the shore in a silence which became almost companionable after a couple of minutes. The sun was quite low now, shooting a line of varnished brightness up the Solway, laying a golden boundary between England and Scotland. The line of the tide running down to the Irish Sea was obscured by light. Her mind played with the phrase for a moment, then let it be washed away by the gentle lap of the ebbing water which, with their own footsteps, was the only sound. It seemed to merge with the silence rather than break it, just as the buildings that were now in sight seemed to lie flat against the frieze of grass, sea and sky rather than intrude into it. (page 12)

I borrowed both books from the library.