There’s inches-deep snow outside; the freelance editing side of life may well pick up as the year progresses, and could even provide a certain amount of rant material, but things are quiet at the moment; and my personal muse is exhausted after a spell of activity last week. So I know you’ll forgive me if I take the opportunity to pay tribute to a great man who died about a year ago.
A comment on a post a couple of weeks ago suggested that getting hooked on a series can lead to other things, such as exploring the series author’s other work – especially when that author is Reginald Hill. I agreed wholeheartedly. It’s a great sadness to me, and I’m sure to many others, that the supply of books by this master of his craft is now finite. It’s just over a year since he died, and though it may take a while to track down and read his fairly extensive backlist of early standalones, and I haven’t even read all the Dalziel and Pascoes yet, I will eventually reach the end of the list.
Like all series, Dalziel and Pascoe have their high and low spots. But unlike some series, there doesn’t seem to be an indisputable upward trajectory. Coming in towards the end of a well-established series means there are lots of early titles to catch up on; I’ve been doing exactly that lately, and I’ve discovered some gems which stand proud alongside the later masterpieces.
The four main players, Dalziel, Pascoe, Wieldy and Ellie, are all there, fully formed, from an early stage; maybe not all of them in the first one, but by book three they’re firmly in place. (Not that taking a couple of books to assemble the pieces is so very unusual: I recently read Tess Gerritsen’s first Rizzoli and Isles, and Isles doesn’t even get a mention, though both names are on the cover. And I forget exactly when Peabody makes her first appearance in J D Robb’s In Death series, but I don’t think it’s book one. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong.) And the little quirks and markers that always made Hill stand out from the crowd are there from the get-go: the humour, the wry observations, the words that make you wrinkle your brow and wonder whether to reach for the dictionary or just go with the flow. (I soon learned to go with the flow; half those words aren’t even in the dictionary.) But it’s more than that. Right from the start, there’s a sense of something special, something indefinable which transcends genre and renders irrelevant any attempt to classify him.
So when I find those early standalones, which, be assured, I ultimately shall, I know I won’t be disappointed, even though some of them go back forty years.
I’m already going back twenty-five. A few years ago, before I’d discovered Hill for myself, I (or possibly someone else) bought my husband one which was first published back in the 1980s. It’s set during World War 2, which is not a period of history I normally choose for entertainment, so when he was done with it we filed it on the shelves under H, and it became so much part of the living room décor that I almost forgot it was there. I don’t even know what made me take it down a few days ago.
But I’m glad I did. Everything I read Reginald Hill for is in situ: a wonderful cast of scratch-them-and-they-bleed characters; flashes of wry humour; evocation of background which makes you wonder if there are actually several Reg Hills, inhabiting different time-frames and environments and gathering experience to feed back to the one sitting at the computer; and above all a quality of writing which any editor would kill to find on her desk on a dreary Monday morning.
So I know I still have a bundle of treats in store.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. One of the most brilliant writers that ever lived died far too soon.