What a delightful novel for me to have picked more or less at random from this wonderful author as part of my 20 Books of Summer challenge and one that couldn’t fail to remind me how well this talented author wrote exceptional tales in his many diverse books. This is the fourteenth book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and as with any series they are probably best enjoyed if you read them in order although many, this one included, can be read and appreciated perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.
Despite the book opening with a truly terrifying scene in Pictures of Perfection Reginald Hill has given us a slightly gentler read than some others in the series, although don’t be deceived, at its heart are some very black truths along with some almost prophetic happenings!
Two days before the opening in 1980s rural village of Enscombe in Yorkshire, the local bobby (yes as recently as this the local policemen still lived in the villages) goes missing. He didn’t return from his day’s leave and there is no sign of where or why he might have left. Sergeant Wield is called to the scene, he turns up in style and begins the investigation. Not long afterwards and Superintendent Dalziel gets wind that there is something amiss so he and DCI take a visit to lend a hand.
All the while those opening scenes were in my mind but I had little joy in linking this event to the half-truths and misdirection that was being played out in Enscombe by a whole host of delightful characters. We have a beautiful artist is the love object of many of the male inhabitants, the spinster who runs the hall while her father the geriatric squire is regretful that the laws of inheritance have dictated that this should actually go to Guy with his flashy cars and dress sense. Not to be out-done with have the highly religious café owner who serves her delicious cakes with an aside of bible texts, while the vicar is waiting for eviction from the vicarage when it is sold off to make money for the church. One thing the village is in agreement about is that their local school should remain open, with this in mind there is the ubiquitous fund-raising which comes with a plan B, the sale of the village green.
There is so much to delight in within the pages of Pictures of Perfection, from the links to Jane Austen both ostentatious in the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and slightly more subtle references within the themes themselves, to the moment in history that the book evokes; this was probably the last moments where ‘village life’ could be portrayed in this manner without those who live in such places laughing at the cliché of ‘Olde Worlde Britain’ that it evokes, one where everyone knows each other better than they know themselves often bound by a common enemy or two.
You’ll be pleased and reassured to know with all the periphery views to enjoy within the pages of this novel, there is also a proper plot with a full-blown mystery or two to be solved so my favourite policemen, complete in triplicate; Wield, Pascoe and Dalziel get to business and each in their own way bring pieces of the puzzle back to the police house for examination. Meanwhile the preparations continue around them at the Hall for the ‘Day of Reckoning’, a village tradition where the rents due to the Squire are paid, and it is here that the opening passage is seen from a different perspective. While I never doubted that the trio would solve the mystery of the missing bobby, I did wonder if they would come to a conclusion for the meaning of the Hall’s motto fuctata non perfecta; fear not, all the loose ends, even those in Latin are sewn up, neatly or otherwise!
This was a perfect addition to my 20 Books of Summer challenge the only downside to reading this book on holiday was that I didn’t have ready access to a dictionary – reader, I confess, I needed one more than a few times!!