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A Clubbable Woman

by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins, 1970)

The trouble is… deep down he believes that everyone loves him. He thinks he’s bloody irresistible.
(Pascoe, thinking about Dalziel)

One of English crime fiction’s most memorable pairs, Reginald Hill’s Mid-Yorkshire CID officers Andrew Dalziel (Dee-ell) and his subordinate Peter Pascoe, makes their debut in A Clubbable Woman. First published in 1970, it started off the immensely popular Dalziel and Pascoe series, spanning 25 years and counting, which later evolved into a TV series as well.

Veteran rugby player Sam Connon comes home after a rough game at the club, quite out of sorts. He passes out on his bed, and wakes to find that his wife has been murdered. The key to the crime seems to lie at the Rugby Club, where passion and politics, not to mention alcohol, seem to intermingle freely.

Superintendent Dalziel, though, is no stranger to either rugby or the dealings that take place at the Rugby Club. He blusters his way into the case, with the young and enthusiastic Sergeant Peter Pascoe in tow, complete with his university education. Investigating the maze of relationships between players, other club members, their significant others, as well as the Connons’ inquisitive neighbours, it is up the pair to sort out some sense from the mess. As the case progesses, only one thing is certain. That Mary Connon was indeed a very clubbable woman!

As a whodunit, it is a solid story. A murder, a lot of suspects, possible motives, a husband without an alibi, a questionable parentage… it appears to have all the makings of a modern-day Agatha Christie plot. A significant difference lies in the bulldozing presence of Dalziel. Even in the early days, Hill seems to have had Dalziel’s character worked out thoroughly—the crassness and the fatness combining with an uncanny keenness and intelligence.

Though A Clubbable Woman stands on its own two feet as a decent murder mystery, it is far removed from Reginald Hill’s later brilliance. The absence of Sergeant Edgar Wield is an unfillable chasm. Peter Pascoe is, all said and done, a bit tiresome, and the author’s frequent forays into his thought process finds him rather vague for a man close to 30. Only the all-seeing and all-knowing Dalziel seems to be just as we have always known him! Not averse to putting his boot in, taking pot-shots at Pascoe’s university education, and picking out nuances and reading between the lines where people least expect or want him to.

Some things never change!

RATING: 7/10