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A Killing Kindness

by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins, 1980)

Do as Dalziel does was the golden rule.
And what does Dalziel do?
What he bloody well wants!

Four women have been murdered. All strangled. The press have a macabre ephithet for the killer—the Yorkshire Choker—but the Mid-Yorkshire CID are baffled, with no apparent connection or similarity between the victims. Complicating matters further are a series of mysterious phone calls to the local paper, quoting Shakespeare. Could they possibly have anything to do with the murders?

Superintendent Dalziel (Dee-ell) is feeling quite murderous himself, and it doesn’t help his mood when one of his most reliable and unflappable detectives gets involved in a seance session. And when the clairvoyant in question offers her services to the police, it does little to pacify him.

As Dalziel and his team, including Inspector Pascoe and Sergeant Wield, wrestle with the case, the Choker shows no signs of letting up. Dalziel, enraged at having being made a fool of this way, is forced to give his assent to call in a pair of linguists as well as a psychiatrist to help with the case.

A Killing Kindness is perhaps not among Hill’s best attempts, but is very important from the point of view of character development in the entire series. For perhaps the first time, the ‘holy trinity’ of Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield emerge. Individually, too, we find out more about them. It is clear that Dalziel, his crass exterior notwithstanding, is a very intelligent man and an excellent detective, not to mention an unquestioned leader, albeit one who inspires nothing sort of terror in his subordinates sometimes:

“Sergeant.”
“Sir!”
“Oh, stop standing there as if you’d crapped yourself,” said Dalziel wearily.
“I think I may have, sir,” said Wield.
(p.6)

Pascoe, now married and a father-to-be, is starting to develop his own reputation. And Wield… Wield is as much of a cypher as ever. Aware that being openly homosexual would be a serious impediment to his career, he reckons “the best way to conceal one thing is to conceal all things, to have so many secrets that the only important one wouldn’t be suspected” (p.63). Not that this tactic helps him much, as he finds younger officers—including Peter Pascoe—being promoted over him regularly.

Ellie Pascoe, Peter’s wife, continues to emerge as a significant character in her own right. Not particularly easy to like, yet difficult to dislike, Ellie forms a cypher in her own way. She and Peter seem rather different, and it is at times hard to fathom what they see in each other.

Despite about half a dozen murdered women and a chilling killer with a bizzare motive, we find ourselves strangely riveted to the goings-on in the lives of our heroes, including Ellie, whose pregnancy and her erratic responses to it are amusing, to say the least. But it isn’t Ellie who deals with the greatest of emotional upheavels. That honour goes to Wield (who is erroneously referred to as “V.K. Wield” in one instance, when we know his first name is Edgar), to the extent of making him errupt in “a wild and near hysterical fury”.

What makes Reginald Hill’s characters believable—and likeable—is that though they are all exceptional people individually, he is not averse to making them fail. Be it Pascoe making an ass of himself, Wield having a rare moment of indecision and idiocy, or Dalziel taking off in a totally bizarre and inaccurate flight of logic.

A Killing Kindness may not be a complusive page-turner, but it is a decently satisfying read. Skip it, and it’s your loss.

RATING: 7.5/10