PROTAGONISTS: Detective Inspectors Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe
SETTING: 1970s Yorkshire, UK
SERIES: #1 of 24
Fans of Dalziel and Pascoe will be ecstatic to learn that Felony & Mayhem is reissuing all of the books in this series. A CLUBBABLE WOMAN, the first book in the series which was originally published in 1970, has been out of print for more than 15 years. The reissue will make this series much more accessible for those who haven't been able to find the early works and provide some intriguing back story about the characters they've grown to love over the course of 24 books and a TV series.
Set in Yorkshire, the plot focuses on a group of people who are part of the club where the local rugby teams hang out. Some of them are "has-been" players; others are rising stars. The older member contingent have formed a kind of societal stratum of their own. Thus, when the wife of one of the members is killed in her own home, suspicion focuses on the husband as well as some of the rugby set. There's a lot of hanky panky going on within the group and various romantic alliances have developed.
Andy Dalziel was a rugby player in his earlier days and is quite familiar with the people involved at the club. He's also been with the police for quite a while, and thus serves as a rather grouchy mentor to the relatively untried Peter Pascoe. Dalziel has an intuitive grasp of what is going on, while Pascoe is more of a procedural person.
A CLUBBABLE WOMAN is not one of the strongest books in the series. Its plot is a bit mundane, and there are quite an assortment of characters and red herrings to wade through. I found it difficult to follow, as the narrative was presented from several points of view and many of the characters indulged in "self talk", taking the reader inside their heads, a technique I found confusing. Of course, the development of the characters of Dalziel and Pascoe was particularly interesting to watch. Dalziel is cranky but hasn't reached the full measure of the "Fat Andy" that he later becomes. Pascoe is quite naïve. In this book, he isn't married and has an eye out for attractive young ladies.
Reginald Hill wrote a new foreword for the book, and that was absolutely fascinating to read. A CLUBBABLE WOMAN was actually conceived as a standalone work by the author and meant to feature a "young, liberally minded, reasonably idealistic graduate" of the police academy by the name of Peter Pascoe. Andy Dalziel was only added to provide contrast. As readers of the series know, Dalziel has pretty much stolen the show from Pascoe in the books that follow. The second book, AN ADVANCEMENT IN LEARNING, followed a few years later and was also meant as a standalone. The way that book ended demanded a sequel, and Hill was off and running with a series that has spanned close to 40 years.
Kudos to Felony & Mayhem for making this book available and for planning to reissue the entire series. Although the book itself is not any kind of masterpiece, it does sketch out two of the most loved characters in crime fiction. Even though I've been a very hit-or-miss reader of the series, I found it interesting to see the birth of Pascoe and Dalziel and can only imagine how an avid series reader would enjoy revisiting these characters as they first became formed.