Book review: Dialogues of the Dead by Reginald Hill

the cover of the book

The fat man of crime is back - in a tale of word games, murder, mayhem, and divine intervention.

The story

When the Mid Yorkshire Gazette announces a short story competition, the local library staff bear the brunt - of creating the short list out of the thousands of badly written hopefuls. Dick Dee and his lovely assistant, Rye Pomona, are suffering badly, until they discover one interesting entry - written about a possible crime before it is uncovered.

Rye lets the young and smitten Hat Bowler, a DC and the latest recipient of Dalziel's wrath, know about the suspicious story, and he follows it up only to get on Rye's good side. However, the stories continue, and the body count rises, each crime more twisted and senseless than the last. The murderer, who they call "the wordman", writes each story following his own rules, playing word games, protected by divinity, and outsmarting all the police officers.

Daziel, Pascoe, and Hat Bowler are desperately applying all their literary knowledge in an attempt to outwit their dazzling opponent as more and more people die. But the wordman is playing by his own rules, and as they get closer to the truth, the wordman just seems to get further away... can they catch the wordman, or will they make a terrible mistake?

The style

Reginald Hill has one of the driest wits in the crime-writing business, and he uses it to dramatic and devastating effect in Dialogues of the Dead. His characterisation is excellent, and his attention to detail in the minutiae of his examination of council politics is perfect. The interaction between his characters in realistic and hilarious, particularly the witty Dalziel and the long suffering Pascoe. Their relationship is wonderful, as is the interaction between the police officers and their loved ones.

The story is written in the classic third person limited, with less dedication to character development and more to storyline. Which is fine; there is a lot of story here. The plot is pretty complex, and Hill does walk the reader through quite a bit of it because some of it, frankly, is a bit intellectual and literary. The crimes aren't too bloodthirsty though; they aren't in there to shock. They're their to prove a point, and move the plot along. And of course, there was a great twist at the end.

My one complaint is that maybe it was a bit TOO intellectual in places. The opening, which was the original short story competition entry, was not as grabby an opening as some I've read, and was a bit isolating to the reader. Furthermore, how intellectual IS the mid-Yorkshire police force, just out of interest? Apparently, very. I have an English degree, yet I still couldn't have sorted this one out. That said, I did enjoy the merging of serial killer and crime fiction with more intellectual pursuits; it was done really well, and places the story in a different category from your run of the mill thriller.

Who is this book for?

Those people who are uncompromising lovers of British crime, and wouldn't so much as contemplate reading a standard American novel. This is a bit of a thinking novel, so don't expect to turn your brain off.

If you like this book, you would also like...

A Pinch Of Snuff, also by Reginald Hill. Just as good, and slightly less difficult.

In short

Title: Dialogues of the Dead
Author: Reginald Hill
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0006512887
Year published: 2002
Pages: 558
Genre(s): Thriller, Detective fiction