The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel

The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is now at the fourth stop in our dangerous journey through the alphabet. Many thanks as ever to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for keeping us all safe thus far. My contribution for this week’s stop – the letter D – is Reginald Hill’s iconic Superintendent Andy “The Fat Man” Dalziel. Oh, come on, are you really surprised at my choice? 😉

Dalziel is a superintendent in the West Yorkshire police, and he fits in well with his surroundings, being a Yorkshireman himself. He and his partner Peter Pascoe star in twenty-two novels, a novella and a collection of short stories – a series that has won these characters millions of fans worldwide. It’s easy to see why, too.

One of the most appealing things about Dalziel’s character is that he is straight-talking and down to earth. One always knows where one stands with him. For example, in Good Morning Midnight, Pascoe hears about the apparent suicide of business executive Pat Mciver. He goes to the Mciver home where he finds that a fracas has broken out. An unidentified man is trying to get into the home and is being blocked by P.C. Bonnick, who’s keeping the scene secure. Pascoe has just arrived, so he hasn’t gotten any information from Bonnick, nor has he had the chance to stop the fight. That’s when Dalziel arrives. He takes one look at the scene and says to Pascoe,


“Evening, Chief Inspector. I’m glad to see you’ve got everything here under control.”


A few minutes later, Dalziel talks to Jason Dunn, the man who was trying to get into the house, to get his version of what happened. Dunn, who’s out of breath and upset, stammers out part of his story. Dalziel then says,


“What’s your problem, lad? ….Apart from not being able to finish sentences.”


It turns out that Dunn is a sometimes rugby player and a PE teacher. Here’s Dalziel’s reaction:


“PE, eh? That explains about the sentences.”


There is never a question about Dalziel’s opinion about things and although that makes him abrasive and sarcastic, it’s also refreshing in that he doesn’t waste words or “dance around” things.

That gruffness though doesn’t mean that Dalziel has no compassion. He feels for those who’ve had to deal with tragedy. For instance, in Recalled to Life, Dalziel hears that Cissy Kohler has just been released from prison after serving a long prison sentence for the 1963 killing of Pamela Westrop. At the time of the murder, Dalziel’s mentor Wally Tallantire investigated the murder and gathered the evidence that convicted Kohler but new evidence suggests that Kohler was innocent. What’s more, there are hints that Tallantire deliberately knew that and hid what he knew. Dalziel doesn’t believe it and decides to find out the truth for himself. So he begins to look again into the Westrup murder. At one point, he goes to visit Tallantire’s widow Maude, for whom he has compassion, especially because of the ugly rumours that are now circulating about her husband. He’s warm and caring with her and when Maude gets a visit from two other cops who’ve been assigned to re-investigate the case, Dalziel wastes no time in protecting Maude and summarily getting rid of the other cops, as he feels they’re harassing her.

Dalziel is a working-class cop who likes his pint. And he deliberately cultivates that image when he feels it suits his purpose. For instance, in Recalled to Life, he makes a trip to New York where he meets with freelance writer Linda Steele, who thinks that Dalziel and his mission to find out what really happened in the Westrop case will make an interesting story. Steele offers to buy Dalziel breakfast and he agrees, adding,


“‘I don’t suppose they do black pudding.’
‘Never mind. I like me bacon crisp enough to shave with, and me eggs like a parrot’s eye.’”


Beneath that “rube” exterior though, Dalziel is a brilliant detective and that, too, is an appealing part of his character. In An Advancement of Learning, for instance, he uses his ability to put the pieces together to solve the murder of Alison Girling, former president of Holm Coultram College. It was always assumed that Girling died in a freak avalanche, but when her body is discovered buried on campus, it becomes clear that she was murdered. Dalziel and Pascoe are sent to the campus to investigate and find themselves in a proverbial hornet’s nest of student activism, university politics and uncooperative faculty members who have little but contempt for Dalziel. But Dalziel is far more intuitive and intelligent than the people of Holm Coultram College think he is, and he and Pascoe discover what really happened to Girling and why.

What’s interesting is that in An Advancement of Learning and other novels too, Dalziel doesn’t always tell Pascoe everything either. It’s not that he doesn’t think Pascoe is competent; as the series evolves he discovers that Pascoe has his own skills and is a good detective. But Dalziel is strong-willed and strong-minded and has his ways of doing things. As the series moves on, we see in fact how Dalziel and Pascoe’s relationship develops. They start out disliking each other or at least not entirely respecting each other, but as the novels move on they get to know each other and come to depend on each other. It’s one of the more productive and interesting relationships between fictional cops.

To say that Andy Dalziel comes on strong is an understatement. But he’s brilliant, intuitive and dedicated. And he’s one of the most enduring fictional cops in the genre. And all this from a character who wasn’t even supposed to be the “star of the show!”

Want to know more about Dalziel? Sure ya do! Want to interact with other fans of Hill’s work? ‘Course ya do! Come and visit Celebrating Reginald Hill, a month-long blog dedicated to the life and work of Dalziel’s creator. I am honoured to be co-hosting the blog with Rhian Davies of It’s a Crime! (or a Mystery…) and we’re having a wonderful time. Check out some wonderful guest posts by a wide variety of contributors, read about Hill’s biography, and enter some competitions coming up as the month goes by. C’mon and join us – the party’s just gotten started!


Filed under Andy Dalziel, Reginald Hill

34 responses to “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel

  1. Thanks for the wonderful piece, Margot. And the links!

  2. Fantastic choice Margot (as always). I stopped reading the books in sequence once the TV series started, which may have been unfortunate though a couple of fellow bloggers have criticised a lot of the later Hill books as being too heavy in their literary approach and sacrificing the mystery element. I’m just starting to read them in chronological order to see if this holds up – do you think there’s a any truth in this? My feeling is that Hill was always a pretty ‘literary’ writer from the very beginning …

    Thanks as always for the stimulating post.

    • Sergio – Thanks very much 🙂 – I appreciate the kind words. Interesting question of whether the books got more “literary” as they went along. They do get longer and the pace gets a little slower in some of them. But more literary? Less “mystery?” I honestly don’t think I agree. For one thing, as you say, Hill always developed characters and all his books have “literary” elements. For another, I really don’t think the “mystery” element fades as the series goes on. One or two are not as focused on the mystery as others are but I honestly don’t think of it as a trend.

      • Thanks for that Margot – when Hill died I promised myself that I really would try reading the books as an ongoing series in chronological order but then stalled somewhat due to starting various challenges and so on, but definitely plan to start again! Having already gone right to their debut volume, which was better than i remembered, and see if I can track the changes over the years. Well, always nice to have a plan anyway, sticking to it is another matter entirely …

        • Sergio – Oh, how true that is! I wish you well going back through those novels and I’ll be really interested in your reflections on what you think of them and how they impact you.

  3. Patty

    Perhaps you have left this to the Celebrating blog, but you didn’t mention Dalziel’s amazing way with the ladies. Apparently some find him irresistible, which is surprising given his bulk and somewhat coarse manner. But that adds a dimension to his character that is intriguing. Mystifying, really.

    • Patty -Yes, indeed, Dalziel has a very successful way with the ladies doesn’t he? I’m glad you mention that because there simply wasn’t room in one post of a reasonable length to discuss as much as I’d have wanted to do. One thing that occurs to me is that despite his manner, Dalziel has a way of putting all his attention into what one says to him. I can imagine that’s intoxicating to someone, to feel that important. And oh, yes, there’s lots more about Dalziel at the Celebrating blog. 🙂

  4. Thanks for this contribution to the CFA for the letter D Margot. I have often read that the Andy of the books is a coarser beast than the depiction of him in the TV series, but I love both.

  5. Thanks for focusing on Dalziel–a reminder that I haven’t read any Reginald Hill books for a while! I’ve got A Fairly Dangerous Thing sitting on the TBR stack–I may have to pull that one out.

    • Bev – I know exactly what you mean about needing to pull books out. There are just so many good books out there I can’t imagine how anyone could read all of them.

  6. One of my favorite characters in one of my favorite series. This was a very original character, I will never forget. But I sincerely hope no one takes over this series.

    • Patti – Oh, good point! I can’t imagine anyone else continuing this series, no matter how beloved the characters. I really like Dalziel and Pascoe but that doesn’t mean I’d want someone else to write another D/P novel.

  7. Oh man, I really have to start this series!

  8. I have not read any of these books but have watched the series on Netflix. Will have to check the library. My blind brother has read them on digital from the library for the blind. he enjoyed them

    • Peggy Ann – I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the television series. In my opinion it’s a good series but the books do a better job of portraying Pascoe’s character and that of his wife Ellie. Still, Warren Clarke was very well cast as Dalziel.

  9. Andy Dalziel is one of my all time favorite fictional characters. What a wonderful overview you have written here.

    I have all of the 24(?) books in the Dalziel/Pascoe series and am only up to Under World, so lots of enjoyment ahead of me. I cannot decide if my favorite so far is Deadheads or An Advancement of Learning. I also have (but have not read yet) the Joe Sixsmith series and a couple of spy novels from the early 1980’s.

    • Tracy – Thank you 🙂 – that’s very kind of you. I’m so glad, too, that you are such a fan of “The Fat Man.” Isn’t he a great character?! You do have lots of great stuff ahead of you, so I won’t spoil it for you. But suffice to say that I think you’ll really enjoy the rest of the series.

  10. Dalziel is such a well-developed character. You’ve done a great job with your profile, Margot–makes me want to go back through and reread some books!

    • Elizabeth – Why, thank you 🙂 – That’s awfully kind of you. I agree, too, that Dalziel has a lot of interesting facets to his character. He’s a character whom I’m pretty sure I’d recognise if I met him in real life and that, to me, is a mark of a good character.

  11. FleurFisher

    Thank you for a wonderful reminder of a great character. I loved the earlier books, but the more recent books less and I have yet to pick up the last couple. Maybe you will inspire me …

    • Fleur – I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. The books and stories cover a long period of time, and you’re hardly the only one who prefers either the earlier or the recent ones. Either way, I agree that Dalziel is a terrific character and I hope you get the chance to either re-vist some “old friends” or try some you didn’t think you’d like.

  12. Andy Dalziel is such a marvellous creation. That’s all I really need to say isn’t it?

  13. Dalziel sounds like an interesting character. Never read anything by Reginald Hill, I am going to read one very soon.

    • Srivalli – Dalziel really is a very interesting character and part of the reason for that is that he’s got several layers. He’s not one-dimensional. I hope you’ll get the chance to read some of that series and some of Hill’s other work. It’s really quite good.

  14. I LOVE THE FAT MAN and I’ve read ALL the Daziel and Pascoe stories!

    Have you read Hill’s other series? I don’t think there is as many as the D & P stories, but Joe Hill (I think that’s his name) is interesting.

  15. I had that wrong! It isn’t Joe Hill, but Joe Sixsmith!

    Oops! 🙂 Anyway, have you read any of those stories? I’ve read a couple, and enjoyed them.

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s