31 December 2007
The Death of Dalziel is the latest in Reginald Hill’s long-running series of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels. They’ve been around for a while, since 1970 in fact, when bright, university-educated Detective-Sergeant Peter Pascoe first teamed up with Superintendent Andy Dalziel in A Clubbable Woman. Time seems to have worked in a relative, different sense over the ensuing period, because Andy is still a Superintendent, but Peter is now a Detective Chief Inspector (although their roles are pretty much the same as ever). For the most part these books have set a standard for crime writing, but in more recent years some of them have not quite come off – the willing suspension of disbelief has not come easily for some of the plots. The Death of Dalziel teeters on the edge of this category.
The story is about terrorism and reactions to it. At the beginning of the book, Dalziel and Pascoe are blown up, and the Fat Man spends the rest of the book on the cusp of life and death. Pascoe has to carry on without his mentor, finding himself taking on many of his characteristics and ploys as he does so. The explosion, and subsequent deaths and other violence, seem to be down to a mysterious group calling itself the Knights Templar, who want to wreak revenge for the British deaths in the Iraq war. But are the security forces involved, and is this why they seem to want to divert Peter’s attentions? As usual, Ellie Pascoe, Peter’s wife, is heavily involved, as is Sergeant Wield and the more recent addition to the cast, PC Hector. All is resolved, not entirely convincingly, but its leavened with mid-Yorkshire humour and commonsense.
The book provides plenty of opportunities for set-piece commentaries on the security forces, TV debate shows, and literary agents, as well as some social commentary on attitudes to people of non-British origin in the climate of today. It is very well done, and the timing and flow of the action is impeccable. It’s just that some of the coincidences are too much so, and some of the characters are a bit over the top. But perhaps that’s not unexpected for the 22nd book in a series.
For a full list of Reginald Hill’s books see the Wikipedia entry or the HarperCollins site.
25 December 2007
Tony Hillerman has written a long series of novels set in the Navajo country in the US Southwest, and featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee as Navajo Tribal Police called on to solve various crimes. The books reflect a deep knowledge and respect for Navajo traditions and thinking that play a major role in the way in which the leads carry out their investigations. They also reflect the conflict at both personal and system levels between the Navajo culture and that of the world around them.
Shape Shifter has a retired Joe Leaphorn working on an unsolved case from his past, triggered by a former colleague and a picture of a priceless Navajo rug, woven with images of the Long Walk of the Navajo when the white culture wanted them removed as a final solution. Trouble is, the rug was meant to have been destroyed in a fire that also burned up a wanted murderer. The story is about Joe’s dogged and patient working through of the evidence that suggests that his target’s identity may have been changed and assumed – a shape shifter. The investigation also brings Joe into contact with Tommy Vang, a Hmong from South-east Asia, whose people have some similar experiences to the Navajo. The end is reached in a hail of bullets and bloodshed, and justice is done, if not quite by the book.
The feel of The Shape Shifter seems to be a bit different from most of the earlier books – more elegaic, perhaps matching Joe Leaphorn’s reflective mood in his “retirement”. The detecting, as always, seems to require many miles and hours of travel and a lot of awareness of Navajo manners and customs. And that’s ok. But what does seem a little forced is the use of Tommy Vang as some sort of plot mechanism to help move the action along. This detracts from the book, which is a pity, because for the most part it’s a great read, with enough hints of future issues that Joe will need to face to suggest that more will come.
My copy published by Allison & Busby. For more details on Tony Hillerman’s books go to the Wikipedia entry, and for more about everything related to Tony Hillerman go to the unofficial website (don’t bother with the official HarperCollins site – too busy, not user-friendly).
18 December 2007
Robert B Parker has written a lot of books, mostly about Boston private detective Spenser, and his sidekicks, but more recently with some other series often, as in this book, with characters crossing over between them
High Profile is a further instalment in the Jesse Stone series, in which a small-town police chief in Paradise, Massachusetts wrestles with the demons of drink that wrecked his LA homicide detective career, and tries to resolve his ongoing relationship with his ex-wife. The latter is seriously affecting Jesse’s cross-over relationship Sunny Randall, heroine of another of Parker’s series.
The action is based around the deaths of a high-profile TV personality and his girlfriend. The detecting takes place in between and through a series of snappy dialogue scenes between Jesse and the women in his life, his colleagues, and his suspects. Needless to say, the red herrings are tossed back, the crime is solved, and the old faithfuls of money and sex supply the motives.
Parallels are drawn between the inability of the dead man to maintain relationships, and the challenges facing Jesse Stone in his life, if only to show that in his case there is hope. All very profound. Slight but well done.
For a full list of Parker’s books go to the link above, or to the Wikipedia entry.