As the deadline crunch approaches for the BookPage Whodunit column each month, several last-minute mini-crises can have an effect on which books make the cut, and which ones are passed over. Occasionally a book arrives a bit late, and turns out to be so good that it displaces one that is already slated for review. Or, for reasons known only to a select few (of whom I am apparently not a member), a publication date gets pushed back, and a replacement book must be hastily plucked from the stacks. Every now and then, a book arrives way too late to be covered, but my thoughtful editors send it along anyway, as they know I will enjoy reading it even if it is past the “use-by” date in the column.
Such is the case with the newest “Dalziel and Pascoe” book by Reginald Hill, Midnight Fugue. For those unfamiliar with the series, there are some twenty-four installments at this point. They feature a pair of Yorkshire cops, Peter Pascoe and “Fat Andy” Dalziel, whose surname is inexplicably pronounced “Dee-ell” with the accent on the “ell”. (A small digression: England is rife with these names that nobody can decipher: Talliaferro, pronounced “Tolliver”; Featherstone-Haw, pronounced “Fanshawe”, the list goes on.) Nobody dares call Dalziel “Fat Andy” to his face, but when he is mentioned in the third person, the word “Andy” is never spoken without the pejorative qualifying adjective. Two books back, it looked like we were going to lose Fat Andy, as he had the misfortune to be at ground-zero just in time for a terrorist bombing. A protracted stay at a seaside sanatorium has brought him partway back to his feisty former self, but it seems he is still not firing on all eight cylinders.
Enter Mick Purdy, a fellow cop Dalziel knew in the old days when he was coming up through the ranks. Purdy’s inamorata seeks to have her husband declared legally dead so she and Purdy can tie the knot. Trouble is, said “dead” husband appears to have been spotted, quite alive, and quite recently. Purdy cannot look into the matter officially, so he enlists Dalziel’s aid on the QT. It all seems fairly routine until a nosy reporter gets his face blown off by person or persons unknown, and Dalziel’s assistant is left for dead at the scene of the crime. Anecdotal evidence points to one Goldie Gidman, a reformed(?) street thug who happens to be the father of the Conservative candidate-in-waiting for the office of Prime Minister, and nobody wants to be the one responsible for opening that can of worms. Except, of course, Andy Dalziel…
As usual, Reginald Hill is in fine fettle, peppering the dialog with Fat Andy’s curmudgeonly observations on modern life, advancing the story line smartly, and keeping the identity of the villain(s) a closely held secret until the final moments.