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Good Morning, Midnight

by Reginal Hill (Harper Collins, 2004)

“Now he’s throwing his toys out of the cot.”
“And his teddy’s weighted with lead shot.”
(Wield and Pascoe discussing Dalziel)

A “simple suicide”, avers Chief Inspector Pascoe, is an oxymoron. And when Pal Maciver blows his own head off with a shotgun, there is certainly nothing simple in it. Locked in his study with bone and brain spattered across the room, a book of poems on the desk, an envelope addressed to his wife, and a particular piece of music on the turntable—all an exact imitation of his father’s suicide exactly ten years ago.

Even though CID boss Superintendent Andrew Dalziel (Dee-ell) wants everything wrapped up and handed to their uniformed colleagues at the earliest, Peter Pascoe earns his wrath by smelling a rat where Dalziel isn’t best pleased about him sniffing. Specifically, at Kay Kafka, formerly Maciver, the enigmatic stepmother of Pal, with whom he has a close friendship. Pascoe is pretty sure there is nothing remotely romantic in the relationship, but that doesn’t explain Dalziel’s impatience to close the case and his reluctance for any close investigation into matters Maciver.

However, a closer look at the family shows a complicated web of deceit and dysfunctionality, starting with shady business dealings to accusations of sexual assault. The biggest question that bothers Pascoe, though, is why Pal chose to imitate his father’s suicide so closely? Was he trying to tell them something about his father’s death?

With Good Morning, Midnight, Reginald Hill has fallen back to the On Beulah Height type of narration, where the the plot progresses through the points of view of different characters. Masterly as the author is at toying with readers, you need all your wits about you to tie up dangling ends—and sometimes they make startling knots. It is obvious to Pascoe that far from being a simple matter of proving a suicide, the case goes far beyond Pal Maciver’s death and far beyond Mid-Yorkshire itself. The question is, is it going to be worth it—or even easy—bulldozing through a massive obstruction called Andy Dalziel?

In Good Morning, Midnight wit and humour delight as much as the Maciver family’s machinations disgust. And when you realize the significance of the creepy prologue, it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Is Andy Dalziel, the Almighty in Mid-Yorkshire’s cop circles, truly all-seeing or is he being jerked around by a master manipulator?

Peter Pascoe is in his elements in this book, confident and in control. Edgar Wield, having found domestic bliss with Edwin Digweed, is his usual taciturn and efficient self. Shirley Novello—Ivor, as Dalziel calls her—shows more and more promise by the book, enough to have even the veteran Wield doubt himself sometimes:

He looked at her in slight dismay. If she’d already done all she’d been asked to do, then maybe it was time for him to move over and the new generation in.
“So what have you got?” he asked.
“Nothing yet,” she said. “Except an appointment… with [the] bank manager. Got his lawyer’s name too, so I thought I’d have a word with him about the will…. Will you be here if I need to check back with you, Sarge?”
He felt a rush of relief. So, no superwoman after all, but she had the makings of a very good detective. Why hadn’t he thought of the lawyer?…
Every so often granny really need to be reminded how to suck eggs!
(p.301)

There are some interesting disclosures relating to Dalziel’s past and a rather touching self-analysis, when he says about a woman he had an affair with, while giving an unoffical statement to Pascoe:

I thought me birthday had come every day. I’d wake up and look at that lovely black face lying on the pillow… and think, You’re a lucky bugger, Andy Dalziel!…
And it never ever crossed my mind to wonder what she were thinking when she woke up and the first thing she saw in the morning was me.
(pp.464–65)

Good Morning, Midnight is, in short, quite brilliant. It gets tiresomely repetitive saying this about every Dalziel and Pascoe book, but that doesn’t stop it from being true about the latest in the series. Reginald Hill is the Don Bradman of the crime genre—so far ahead of the rest that it doesn’t bear comparison.

RATING: 8.5/10