This is number ten in the wonderful Dalziel & Pascoe series, written in 1988 with a setting centred on a small mining community in Burrthorpe in Yorkshire. This is in the aftermath of the strikes of the 80’s and the miners now have sponsored day release for educational purposes. Ellie Pascoe is roped in to take some classes which provides her from a break writing her feminist novel which isn’t proceeding as planned. Her class includes an angry young man, Colin Farr whose father was the last person to see young Tracey Pedley alive before she was murdered. A local man who committed suicide was widely believed to be the culprit but that hasn’t completely stemmed the whispers and rumours.
Under World creates the atmosphere of a small closed community perfectly, a place where old secrets are kept and ruminated upon away from outside eyes so when a murder occurs in Burrthorpe mine means that the police are called in to investigate it takes Dalziel and Pascoe a while to get to the truth. It doesn’t help that Colin Farr is one of the chief suspects not least because Ellie obviously is attracted to the dark brooding young man who hates the locality but is unable to leave until he works out the truth of what his father did the day little Tracey went missing. Ellie is drawn to the young man’s mind, as well as his physical attributes, as she struggles to balance her feminist and leftist ideals against her role as wife and mother, most particularly her role as wife to a Police officer in a place where the wounds from the strike have not yet healed.
Most of us won’t have worked under ground yet Hill manages to recreate the atmosphere both from multiple points of view, from the seasoned miner to a sightseeing trip for the educators and an investigative perspective for the police. All add a different facet to build up a picture of what this way of life would have meant for those toiling unseen in the depths of the earth and given the lack of alternative employment in the locality, let alone one that would provide the same sense of mutual dependency on those who worked alongside you, why the downfall of this industry had the power to change these communities for ever.
I love Reginald Hill’s writing, he is one of the few writers whose strong political messages I enjoy rather than dismiss, probably because he weaves this carefully into the story-line without ever invoking a ‘preachy tone’. The black-humour that is present in the rest of the series also threads its way throughout this book, raising a wry smile from time to time, usually provoked by one of Dalziel’s proclamations. None of this gets in the way of a really good story though, the plot is as convoluted as expected, the tension kept taut as the investigation is sent hither and thither and the set of characters entirely believable. Although the absence of modern technology was noticeable, especially the use of phone boxes to summon help, apart from that, despite having been written so long ago this book didn’t feel dated, it easily stands up to the more modern police procedurals from one of the masters of this genre.
I’m delighted to have chosen this as part of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, it reminded me quite how good this series is and I can see that I will be revisiting more in the not too distant future.