REGINALD HILL – Ruling Passion.   Dell, paperback reprint; Scene of the Crime #51; first printing, August 1982. Hardcover editions: Collins/Crime Club, UK, 1973; Harper & Row, US, 1977. Reprinted many times, both hardcover and soft.

REGINALD HILL Ruling Passion

   Chronologically the third of the Superintendent Dalziel–Sergeant Pascoe novels, of at least 20 and still counting, and only the second that I’ve managed to sit down and read. The first one is lost to memory — to mine, at least. I could hazard a guess as to which one it was, but that’s all it would be, a guess.

   But even so, I could tell that the uneasy rapport (of sorts) between Pascoe and Dalziel was still going through some growing pains in Ruling Passion, the overweight (fat) Dalziel thinking of himself as a mentor, and Pascoe, if indeed a student, often wishing that he had a different master.

   If you’re a long-time reader of the series, feel free to chip in. How has their relationship grown and changed over the years?

   The two cases in Ruling Passion are really both Pascoe’s. The one in which he’s more deeply involved is the more interesting of the pair, and he’s not even the investigating officer. He and Ellie Soper, a friend from college days with whom he’s been recently reunited, getting together with four other friends from that time of their life, shockingly find three of them dead — murdered. Missing, and presumably the killer (although not to Pascoe’s way of thinking) is the husband of one of the three.

REGINALD HILL Ruling Passion

   The other case, the one to which he’s officially been assigned, is that of a series of house break-in’s that have recently taken place while the owners have been away. A fairly innocuous case, but there are signs that — as opposed to the usual burglar — this one will put up a fight if he’s cornered.

   This was a long book in 1973, unusually so, with over 300 pages of small print in the paperback edition I read; while it may run closer to today’s norms, I still found it long. The big question (to mystery readers) is whether or not the two cases are connected. Hill’s books can be difficult to get a good read on, or so I’ve been told, so it’s not so clear cut that the two cases are really one — and I won’t tell you.

   But as possibly an experiment in story-telling technique, what these means is that there are two distinct circles of major characters for the reader to keep track of, and for me in particular, it meant that the case I found less interesting — the one involving the break-in’s — got the short end of the stick, as far as paying the attention I should have to it. (Looking back, though, having finished the book, I think that case number two as well as the characters really WERE less interesting.)

   Hill also has a way of starting scenes somewhat after they’ve begun, hiding what happened at the end of one scene, only to come back to it later and off the beat. While Pascoe does a lot of detective work (Dalziel, while a central figure, stays rather in the background, if that makes sense) I don’t think he (Pascoe) did any detecting: just thinking and putting a lot of jumbled facts together, in a common sense sort of way, sometimes to good advantage and sometimes not.

REGINALD HILL Ruling Passion

   Nor does Pascoe have all the facts, as it turns out. This is a detective novel in which the characters and the relationships between them are as interesting to watch and follow as the unraveling of the case(s) itself/themselves — if not more so.

   Ellie, in particular, not sure in the beginning that she really likes having a policeman as a boy friend, and detesting Dalziel in particular, finds herself warming to him, gradually and very much to her surprise.

   As for Pascoe, he is pleased to learn along the way that he’s been promoted to Inspector. Does that mean that there’s life, he wonders, after Dalziel?

[POSTSCRIPT]   I haven’t mention the long-running BBC TV show based on the series, but obviously, since it did run so long (60 episodes in all, between 1996-2007), it must have had quite a bit going for it. Comments and/or comparisons, anyone?