Monday, May 25, 2015

Something about a Will: Child's Play (1987), by Reginald Hill

Reginald Hill's death at the beginning of 2012 received less attention from the major presses than did the deaths of "Crime Queens" PD James and Ruth Rendell in 2014 and 2015, but most fans of modern British mystery, I believe, would readily include Hill in the ranks of the very best crime writers from the last half-century (see this nice 2012 piece by Mike Ripley in the Guardian).

Hill's first novel about Superintendent Dalziel and Inspector Pascoe, A Clubbable Woman, appeared way back in 1970.  Between that year and 1984 he published eight well-received D&P detective novels, but I think the period from 1987-1990 represented an advance in his work, with his writing attaining greater depth, while not sacrificing the formal puzzle aspect.

In those years Hill published three novels: Child's Play (1987), Underworld (1988) and Bones and Silence (1990).  Over the next dozen years Hill produced what I think are some of the very finest modern examples of the mystery form, including Pictures of Perfection (1994), On Beulah Height (1998) and Dialogues of the Dead (2002).

Over the next few weeks I want to look at a pair of these novels, starting, I hope very soon, with Child's Play, a book that involves so many classic elements, including a rich old woman's will, a pack of disgruntled relatives and the return of a missing heir, vanished during the Second World War. But is the man really the heir, or an impostor?  There's lots for the classic mystery fan to like here.

Reginald Hill


  1. Glad to see you like Hill!

    That string of late novels - Pictures of Perfection, Recalled to Life, The Wood Beyond, On Beulah Height and Dialogues of the Dead - is sheer genius.

    It's not surprising that Hill admired Terry Pratchett; both writers took a popular form and wrote rich and complex novels that dealt with 'serious themes' (war, death, religion, child abuse, social upheavals) - which were also grandly entertaining, with an often bawdy sense of humour, AND (in Hill's case) were brilliantly plotted, with some of the best clues since WWII. Of course, the literary ancestor for both writers is Dickens. Can one talk about the Dickens school of detective fiction (which would probably include Chesterton and Bailey as well) vs. the Jane Austen / George Eliot / (silly novels by) lady novelists school?

    1. Oh, now you are opening a can of worms! How about Anthony Trollope?

      There's richness and *life* to Hill that I don't get in James, who, despite her virtues, seems rather one-note (gloomy) by comparison.

      Please get in touch with me, by the way, there are some things I wanted to discuss with you!

  2. Certainly! I'll drop you a line tonight.

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