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Deadheads

by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins, 1983)

It’ll make a change from rickshaws for the lad.
(Andy Dalziel about the Yorkshire-bred Shaheed Singh)

When the redoubtable Great Aunt Florence collapses in the middle of her rose bushes, Patrick Aldermann finds himself inherting the beautiful Rosemont House with its elaborate gardens. But it leaves many uncomfortable questions, especially in the mind of the reader, as the story fast-forwards into present day, and Aldermann is suspected of being a murderer by his boss.

Inspector Peter Pascoe is the unfortunate confidante of Aldermann’s boss, Dick Elgood, and he is left with a sticky problem. It is not just the iffy nature of Elgood’s accusation—and not even that he subsequently retracts the same; Peter’s wife Ellie finds herself getting friendly with Daphne Aldermann, Patrick’s wife.

A closer look at the life and times of Aldermann finds a number of fortuitous deaths around him—people inconvenient to him appear to drop like flies at convenient times. Whether it is his later father-in-law, whose death enabled him to marry, or whether it various colleagues, whose departure to heavenly pastures finds Aldermann pitched face-first into corporate advancement.

Meanwhile, Mid-Yorkshire’s first Asian cop, Police Cadet Shaheed Singh, makes himself useful by digging up some interesting information about Daphne, giving Superintendent Dalziel (Dee-ell) and his team excuses to poke around the Aldermanns. Sergeant Wield with his carefully veiled homosexuality provides some comic—if poignant—relief by being undeniably smitten by Singh’s Indian charm. Cadet Singh, in fact, is an intriguing character in Deadheads, providing an interesting foil to the investigations. He brings out the colonial worst in Dalziel, referring to Singh as tea-wallah at one point, and insisting on addressing him as Abdul!

The boy… had been born and bred in Yorkshire, but neither bits of information affected Dalziel’s comments, which were at best geographically inaccurate, at worst criminally racist.
(p.40)

Deadheads is a rather unusual sort of whodunit, and it winds its way to an unpredictable end. There is an almost Christie-ish touch to it, and it is replete with humour, including Dalziel’s attempts to relive the Raj, Wield’s unrequited ardour, and the Pascoe family’s latest addition. Add to it Reginald Hill’s delightful turn of phrase, and you have a perfect lazy weekend read.

RATING: 7.5/10