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!