A Pinch of Snuff
by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins, 1978)
A Pinch of Snuff is the fifth in the series of Dalziel (Dee-ell) and Pascoe mysteries. Published back in the 1970s, Reginald Hill’s skill to toy with the language is already more than evident. So much so, it often makes you want to stop reading, reach for a pencil and note down a quote or two, or just laugh out loud! Here’s a sample or two:
Dalziel rolled his eyes heavenwards in what was doubtless intended as an expression of bewildered piety but came out more like a lecherous peek up God’s skirts.
“Come on, Peter [says Dalziel]. You youngsters are all the same. You have forgotten what your feet are for!”
Pascoe looked at the fat behind he was following and remembered wistfully one thing a foot was for.
Reading this, it is impossible to imagine that the oft-blundering young Pascoe could ever metamorphose into the suave DCI of the later novels. It is even more difficult to pre-empt the formation of the ‘holy trinity’ of Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield. Certainly, there is no indication of the close friendship that later developed between Wield and the Pascoes (Peter and his wife Ellie). In fact, Wield seems to intimidate the young inspector.
A first-time reader is unlikely to be impressed with A Pinch of Snuff, apart from Hill’s ability to play with words. Superintendent Andrew Dalziel here comes across as crass and insensitive; Pacoe unimpressive. Wield is very much on the sidelines, with a few usual cracks about his hacked features, his unyielding expressions and his unerring efficiency. (A perfect introduction to the Dalziel and Pascoe series would be On Beulah Height, even though it contains some spoilers about the personal lives of some characters.)
The story is a simple one by Hill’s standards. The Calliope Club screens ‘naughty’ films for its members—’Rugby club night out stuff’ (p.3) is how DI Pascoe’s dentist describes it to him. The reason he is mentioning it is, he feels someone got badly hurt in the making of one of the screened films. It leads Pascoe to making some quiet enquiries, but before he knows it, the owner of the Calli is murdered, the theatre wrecked, and the dentist accused of molesting a young girl.
It is a plain old whodunit, with a few side issues thrown in. It is quite different from the more recent Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries in format. For one, there are no parallel narratives, a sort of fixture in the more recent books—something that Hill can be quite brilliant at, if you forget the fiasco that was Arms and the Women. For another, the focus on Pascoe gets a bit trying at times.
So would I recommend it? Yes, without doubt, especially if you are a Dalziel and Pascoe fan. If not, go forward in time and read some of the more recent books, and come back to this one later.