Hill, Reginald - 'Midnight Fugue'
MIDNIGHT FUGUE may be Reginald Hill's twenty-second full-length Dalziel & Pascoe novel (who's counting?) but it is like none you've read before. The entire action takes place over 16 hours of one "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" - and the wonderful Andy Dalziel is asleep for two of them!
Still groggy from the terrorist bomb which almost killed him two books ago, Dalziel is contacted by the wife (or is it widow?) of one London policeman who wants to marry another providing the first is legally dead. Both coppers turn out to have a history with ageing black gangster Goldie Goldman who has gone legit, or so it seems, to further the ambitions of his Tory-boy son who just might get to be Britain's first mixed-race Prime Minister. Despite Goldie's love of classic Jimi Hendrix tracks (are there any other sort?), he's a villain through and through and despatches a wonderful pair of psychopathic siblings to Mid-Yorkshire to find....well, that would be telling.
Suffice it to say, it involves a radical Welsh journalist or two, a christening party attended by Peter and Ellie Pascoe, a nicely-choreographed piece of farce in a posh Yorkshire hotel, cameo roles for those regular Hill favourites, Edgar Wield and 'Ivor' Novello, as well as superb comic relief scenes featuring a Mrs Esme Sheridan as the witness from Hell (reminiscent of the Miss Clack scenes in THE MOONSTONE), and a senior Welsh policeman caught wonderfully in flagrante in a lay-by somewhere just north of the Peak District.
This is one of the fastest-paced - and funniest - books in the Dalziel canon (and it is very much a Dalziel book rather than a 'Dalziel & Pascoe'), with the action cutting almost cinematically between several view points as 'Fat Andy' does what he does best, which is to be both a catalyst and a focal point for the resolution of crimes past, present and possibly still to come.
Somebody even cleverer than Reg Hill said "Let me have men around me that are fat" and if the proof in the (second-helping of) pudding was ever needed, look no further than "That bulk...that ursine gait...that simian head" that is Andy Dalziel, one of the greatest creations in British crime fiction. Of course there are limits, such as the picture of this behemoth sporting himself in pale green slacks but one can forgive a lot a man who says there's nothing wrong with graduates "as long as you catch the buggers young".
Reg Hill proves that age does not weary him when it comes to turning a fine phrase, such as a wriggling baby being described as lying like a "bouleversed beetle" or Dalziel's "drumlin chins" being shaved as smooth as a bowling green. My favourites though are the southern psychopath's conclusion that: "Like prison, once out of Yorkshire, there was no way he was going back" and the fact that one of the Welsh characters hails from the village of Llufwwadog. Never read any Dylan Thomas? Reg Hill has. Try reading "Llufwwadog" backwards.
MIDNIGHT FUGUE is Reginald Hill, at his most assured, having fun; and the good thing about Reg Hill as a writer is that he can have you rocking in the aisles and still deliver a surprise punch when you least expect it. When it comes to fine plotting, sympathetic characterisation, great gags and some well-aimed barbs from an unrepentant liberal softy, look no further than the Grand Master himself and take delight in his sheer bloody humanity.
Mike Ripley, England
Mike Ripley has reviewed over 950 crime novels in a 20-year stint as a critic for, among others, the Daily Telegraph, Birmingham Post, Publishing News, The Good Book Guide and Deadly Pleasures (US). He currently runs a creative crime-writing course for Cambridge University's Institute of Continuing Education and writes the gossip column Getting Away With Murder on www.shotsmag.co.uk . His own crime novels are ludicrously over-praised on his official fan site www.thatangellook.co.uk, but that's what it's there for.