Friday, July 9, 2010

Only kidding

The author Reginald Hill likes to let his intellect show, I think. Not in an obnoxious way, although it can be a bit show-offy. While I understand the tyranny of a successful book series and how it can threaten to bore the author to tears (forcing you to murder your characters, a la Arthur Conan Doyle), sometimes I think I can tell when you are getting bored. And I fear Mr. Hill is getting bored, because he tosses in everything including the kitchen sink into Death's Jest-Book, the 20th entry in his long-running detective series featuring Yorkshire Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his long-suffering Inspector Peter Pascoe.

It's massive (17+ hours), features a large cast of characters, two suspicious deaths and two other deaths that came from nowhere, and two more bodies just for good measure, slips in both the Christmas and New Year's holidays, as well as two flashbacks to the 19th century, and includes a peripatetic character who -- in addition to having sex with a mother and her two daughters (or was it only one?) -- visits far too many places in a short time frame. Now, I'm all for sophisticated writing and intellectual ideas in your standard detective fiction, but this was exhausting.

I'm not sure I can summarize. a) Peter Pascoe begins receiving lengthy letters from an intelligent young man named Franny Roote. Roote has recently been released from prison (Pascoe put him there), and just seems to be a little too interested in Peter and his family. He's the aforementioned traveler of the story and two people hanging inconveniently around him end up dead. Everyone tells Peter he is overreacting. Oh, and Roote has inherited the literary estate of his mentor (murdered by the serial killer in the previous book in the series) who was researching the life of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, an English man of letters and author of the original Death's Jest Book.

b) Another recurring character, the gay Sergeant Edgar Wield gets involved (not sexually) with a "rent boy" named Lee, who -- we learn -- has connections with some not so savory characters, including a defense attorney and his shady clients. Lee passes on some pillow-talk tips to Wieldy.

c) The serial killer, the librarian (!) Rye Pomona, is threatened by the friend of one of her victims. This victim has been named by the police as the serial killer, but this friend smells a cover-up. (Only the reader knows Rye is the killer ... certainly not her lover, Constable "Hat" Bowler.)

d) A large "hoard" of ancient British treasure may possibly be sold out of the country. (I could never understand the proper noun used to describe said hoard.)

e) Superintendent Fat Andy Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) knows more than he's telling and profanely tells everyone what to do.

I suppose the trick here is that all the strands knitted almost neatly into a resolution. Almost. I won't spoil it, but I didn't like it. And one of the reasons I didn't was that neither Pascoe nor Dalziel seemed to be acting in character. Peter -- the cool, educated one -- is noisily obsessing about Roote for 16-and-a-half hours and then has an utter about-face (with reason, some might say, but I don't buy it), and Dalziel -- well, suffice it to say that he kindly embraces one of his subordinates at the end of novel. What? I've read all 20 of these novels, and the crude, politically incorrect Fat Andy only embraces lasciviously!

I think it goes without saying that diving into this largely entertaining series at this point would be a mistake. Go back at least one, but I recommend starting at the beginning. (I can't remember when I first discovered Dalziel and Pascoe, but they were so unlike anything I'd read before that I was easily hooked.)

So, the audiobook. It's read by Shaun Dooley, whoever he might be. He appears to be the go-to guy for Dalziel and Pascoe though, and he is very good. He has a very deep, pleasant voice and reads with humor and pathos. The various shadings of Yorkshire and other British accents accurately reflect the characters -- what's not to love about Dalziel's "owt and nowt" properly rendered. Dooley seems to have particular fun with Franny Roote's breezy, lengthy missives -- there is no doubt in my mind that Roote is slyly pushing every one of Peter's buttons in Dooley's slightly snarky delivery. He's generally good at portraying females, if occasionally painfully high-pitched. For vocal pyrotechnics, he tosses off a German conversation with a Swiss housekeeper with aplomb, and even does a short rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in a karaoke bar. This song is from my top-40-listening days, I was singing along ...

Despite all my complaints about the story, I was pretty riveted to the book. I really blasted through -- completing it in about 10 days. When I finish a book that fast, I'm totally in the listening zone. I think Mr. Dooley's fine performance may have helped me along, when sticking with it in print may have been a challenge. Bored or no, Mr. Hill writes a very entertaining book and his characters are well worth revisiting. I'm about four books behind in this series; I've no doubt I'll keep going.

Death's Jest-Book by Reginald Hill
Narrated by Shaun Dooley
Clipper Audio/Recorded Books, 2005. 17:15 (unabridged)

1 comment:

Vicki said...


I found your blog via Google Alerts because I run a Facebook Fan Page for Shaun Dooley.

I thought I would give you a link or two to tell you about Shaun :

Best Wishes