I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen in love. Fortunately, there haven’t been a proportionate number of heartbreaks since an overwhelming majority of these have been fictional characters. I spent the last weekend revisiting my fondness for one such memorable individual from someone else’s imagination—Sergeant Wield from Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series.
Traditionally, fictional heroes are supposed to be tall, dark and handsome. At six-foot-four, with a physique to die for and a head of dark hair, Detective Sergeant Edgar Wield seems to meet most of the requirements. His is a visage once seen and never forgotten:
Silhouetted against the golden autumn sunlight, his face deep shadowed, he had the grace and proportions to model for the statue of a Greek athlete. Then he moved forward and his features took on detail, and you remembered that if this were a statue, it was one whose face someone had taken a hammer to.
(Dialogues of the Dead)
Each individual feature was only slightly battered, or bent, or scarred… but combined in one face they produced an effect so startling that Pascoe who met him almost daily was still amazed when he entered his room.
(A Pinch of Snuff)
If you haven’t already got the point, no worries—Reginald Hill hammers home the message a few more times than, in my opinion, is needed. Wield’s looks have been compared to craggy rock faces and ruined architecture, his expression to Chinese encyclopaedias and Swiss neutrality. Despite his late entry, Wield is shown to seal his rightful place in the Holy Trinity with Superintendent Dalziel and Inspector Pascoe very quickly. His superbly organized mind—leading Dalziel to comment his brain should be “picked in strong ale and sold to IBM”—gentle demeanour and sensitivity make him an exceptional detective. Detective Constable Shirley Novello once summed him up perfectly:
And Wield was… Wield. Unreadable as a Chinese encyclopaedia, but containing everything a cop needed to know. There were stories about his private life which might have washed away another man’s career. But against that unyeilding crag, they broke and vanished back into the sea.
Word was that when Dalziel spoke, you obeyed; when Pascoe spoke, you listened; when Wield spoke, you took notes.
(On Beulah Height)
Novello, incidentally, was also the only one who found beauty in his face:
His eyes, she noticed for the first time, were rather beautiful, circles of Mediterranean blue round a dark grey centre set on a field of pristine white with not a red vein to be seen. It was like finding jewels in a ruin.
(On Beulah Height)
Where his alarming looks might make him unforgettable, there’s no doubting his substance as a human being. And that, despite preferring to stay in the background, he is clearly one of the sharpest minds in the team. He is also an electronic whizz, which gives him quite an advantage in those early days of computerization. Which begs the question, why does Wieldy remain a perpetual sergeant?
The indications are that Wield joined the police to deny his sexuality, his decision hastened by the fact that when he was a teenage draughtsman’s apprentice, his boss attempted to take advantage of his confusion. Draughtsmanship’s loss ended up being the Mid-Yorkshire Constabulary CID’s gain. (The time when Wield must have joined the force, being gay would have got him kicked out of his job.) And to stem any speculations on his private life, he took to living his life in “compartments” for many years till he finally accepted what couldn’t be avoided.
Though not officially “out”, at some point in the series Wield made a conscious decision not to deny his sexual orientation. However, in an attempt to not tempt fate, he made an equally conscious decision not to pursue further glory in his career. And in boss Andy Dalziel he found an ally who—if not in obvious style—had always had his back, even when Wield wasn’t aware of it.
Instead of beating about the bush, Wield can be summed up really simply: he is the quintessential good man. It isn’t like he hasn’t got his faults, though. For example, he tampered with evidence at least once to save the skin of someone whom professed an inexplicable liking for and also made some bad decisions. But, when all is said and done, Wield is an amazingly easy character to like. This little exchange with a lab assistant leaves no doubts as to why that is so:
He watched as a radiantly beautiful young woman… picked up a tiny monkey which threw its arms around her neck in a baby-like need for reassurance. Expertly, she disengaged it… and plunged a hypodermic needle into the base of its spine.
“Ouch,” said Wield. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
“Done properly, the animal hardly feels it,” she reassured him…
“No, Jane,” he said amiably, “it was you I meant.”
(The Wood Beyond)
Ironically, my interest in Wield was rekindled after watching the TV adaptation of the series. Actor David Royle does a sublime job of portraying the taciturn sergeant. And while he’s not the handsomest person on the show, he’s far from ugly.
Beauty, they say, lies in the eye of the beholder.