Pictures of Perfection—Reginald Hill–1994–Delacorte Press
I came to Reginald Hill’s Peter Pascoe and Andy Dalziel Yorkshire detective novels late. At least 10 books worth late. For reasons that escape me now, I didn’t like his work–or put in another way, I only made it halfway through the first page of the one book I tried to read.
I did read his other series with Joe Sixsmith and enjoyed them, so I gave Pascoe and Dalziel another shot. I couldn’t be happier I did. If not familiar with Hill’s two detectives, suffice to know that Dalziel is a rude, sometimes crude larger than life policeman, while Pascoe is thoughtful, somewhat sensitive, married to a once politically radical woman he met in college. The two work perfectly together. Another member of the team is a halfway-still-in-the-closet detective, Edgar Wield.
Pictures of Perfection is difficult to describe. A bucolic country town, Enscombe, is fighting against the waves of encroachment by tourists and spreading development (sounds like the former state of NJ–it lost the battle). The opening chapter follows a young man as he seems to randomly shoot down towns-person after towns-person. A veritable shooting spree worthy of the US. The narrative goes back in time to a few days before, with the disappearance of the local bobby, which Pascoe finds alarming, Dalziel, not so much. However, Wieldy, as Detective Wield is nicknamed, goes to Enscombe to investigate and although not locating the lost bobby, finds rare bookseller, Edwin Digweed, with whom he may also find romance.
As many have pointed out–Hill uses quotes from Jane Austin to start each chapter, and there are various techniques and situations he either parodies, or uses, depending on how you look at them. I didn’t notice or pay attention to any of that stuff, I was much too involved with the unusual and hilarious characters that occupy the town, knowing which ones are taken down by bullets and which are spared, made for a particularly suspenseful read. And, the book is hilarious! In a very witty, subtle manner. It seems as though practically nothing happens in the two days leading up to the spree, but undercurrents and relationships kept me riveted to each page, so much so, that this was one of those books I couldn’t put down because I needed to know how it would all end. I needed to reread passages after the book concluded. Why? Wouldn’t you like to know?
The Sunday Times is quoted: ‘For suspense, ingenuity and sheer comic effrontery this takes the absolute, appetizing biscuit’
There are so many brilliant novels in the series, that choosing for my best list was not an easy task. One was a certainty and will be explored later down the list. But in deciding which of his other works I found to be astounding, fascinating, I was between two particular titles. This, and The Wood Beyond–a completely different book in terms of style, tenor, and subject. World War I and the absurdity, profound loss of life, and horror the men endured in the trenches is explored through a diary written by Pascoe’s grandfather. This piece of history and the current crime coincide in odd ways. I didn’t choose The Wood Beyond, not because it wasn’t worthy, but because I decided to go with the lighter, yet pointed story of a small town’s attempt at survival. Darn you Hill! You write too well! It’s tough to choose!
Reginald Hill also writes under the pseudonyms of Patrick Ruell, Dick Morland, and Charles Underhill. I know I read some Ruell without the slightest realization of Hill being the author.
This really is a must read for anyone who enjoys a downright great mystery that also offers some hilarious moments.
Reginald Hill said of his book: “One or two critics have suggested that Pictures is not really a crime novel, but I don’t agree. You could say that in a sense it is about the greatest crime of the century – the destruction of community spirit and a whole way of life in England during the past fifteen years.”
Don’t forget to check out the entire list of Best 100 Mysteries of All Time!