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Exitlines

by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins, 1984)

On a wintry November night somewhere in Yorkshire, three old men died. Their deaths were unrelated—Tap Parrinder slipped and fell, and died due to exposure; Robert Deeks was beaten and robbed in his own home; and Philip Westerman was involved in a road accident.

The common thread between the three deaths was the Mid-Yorkshire CID. Inspector Pascoe was asked to investigate the Deeks murder, and he ended up interested in the Parrinder case because he had one of his hunches. And Westerman’s accident involved a car driven by the very drunk Superintendent Dalziel (Dee-ell).

Er, WHAT?!

Um, yes. With the honour and integrity of our heroes’ cop shop called into question, Exit Lines makes for gripping reading right from the start. Is the larger-than-life (pun unintentional!) Andrew Dalziel actually fallible—not to mention corrupt? Worse, is he a murderer? And what the hell is he playing at, consorting with ‘unsuitable’ elements anyway?

“Be careful what you say [Inspector Headingly tells Pascoe]…. He is regarded as a respected member of the community.”
“We’ve all got things we regard as respected members,’ said Pascoe, ‘but we’re in trouble if we start flashing them in public.”
(p.33)

Which just about sums up the Fat Man’s troubles.

Well, Peter Pascoe has other problems as well. Feeling sorry for himself as his wife Ellie, taking their young daughter Rose, goes down to visit her deteriorating father, he is torn between duty and friendship to Dalziel. Meanwhile, his cases are giving him grief, too. He is convinced that Parrinder’s death is a bit more than an accident and has to endure the taciturn Sergeant Wield’s accusing you’re-wasting-police-time stares.

Forget the story, forget about who did it. With Reginald Hill, it’s usually about a 300-odd-page sequence of words put together in a delightful manner. Though one does get a bit tired of the incessant reminders about Wield’s looks. He’s ugly. Yes, yes, we got it!

Wield… raised his eyebrows, producing an effect not unlike the vernal shifting of some Arctic landscape as the sun sets and ice-bound river flowing once more through a waste of snows.
(p.186)

Wield’s face became Arctic once more after its false spring.
(p.188)

That said, there are the sparks of a friendship starting up between Pascoe and Wield, despite the age difference and the fact that Wield was already a sergeant when Pascoe joined the force! Their interactions are much less stilted, though there is a lot of yes-sir, no-sir, very-good-sir. While it is still very much ‘sergeant’ and ‘sir’ between them, it is not so difficult to imagine that in a few years they will move on to ‘Pete’ and ‘Wieldy’. It is clear that the older man regards the young inspector highly, and maybe harbours a bit of exasperated, almost paternal, affection for him.

Peter Pascoe is much more decisive and in control here than in A Pinch of Snuff. He seems to be fond of Dalziel in a bizarre kind of way as well—there is a reference to the fact that Dalziel was to his professional life what Ellie was to his personal. Perhaps here we have a hint of Ellie Pascoe’s dissatisfaction with Peter’s job?

One also has an insight—perhaps the first time in the series?—into Wield. Where his intelligence has never been in doubt, it might come as a surprise to those who haven’t read the later books to learn of the loneliness in his life, and expectations and hopes of something different. He surprises the reader with his wit at times, and to a lesser extent with the gentleness and sensitivity one always suspected was lurking beneath the ruined exterior. We also learn here of his love for H. Rider Haggard’s novels, when he compares an old woman to Ayesha after her second immersion in the Flame of Life!

A wholly satisfying read though Exit Lines might be, be warned that it is a sad story. There is a depressing look at old age and the ‘beckoning darkness at the end of the tunnel’ for many of those in the twilight of their life.

RATING: 8/10