- By Reginald Hill
- First published: UK: Collins, 1970; US: Countryman, 1984
The first appearance of gross, earthy, Falstaffian Andy Dalziel and his university-educated sidekick, Peter Pascoe – ill-matched at first, but soon to develop into one of the greatest duos in the genre. A Clubbable Woman brings an avant-garde, even New Wave sensibility to the crime novel; it is evidently the work of a clever young man – here perhaps even too clever.
The setting is mundane: a football club in a Yorkshire town, all blokiness, beer, and bristols. One of the players goes home with concussion, and recovers to find his wife’s head stoven in. Hill’s narration is almost stream of consciousness, flittering between his players’ internal monologues; there are lengthy dream sequences and vivid metaphors. The crime exists to set characters in motion; Hill is interested in internal lives as much as in the externals. The mystery is thin; there’s not enough plot, and the denouement is unsatisfying: manslaughter, not murder.
Edmund Crispin and H.R.F. Keating, the most eminent members of the ‘donnish’ school, clever and literate, praised it. But it is up-Hill reading. It would take great foresight to see Beulah Height in it, or even Deadheads and Under World.
Connon, keen rugby player and member of a local club, gets knocked out in the first half of a match. Returning home, he retires to sleep off the effects. When he comes down, hours later, it is to find his wife, whom he had left watching TV, lying dead in her chair, the front of her head bashed in.
The police make little progress in uncovering the murderer, but they uncover a great deal about Mary Connon. What sort of woman was this wife and mother who had severed her once-close connections with the rugby club, who apparently enjoyed receiving obscene letters and phone calls, and was not above indulging in something closely akin to blackmail?
Connon is an obvious suspect, particularly when it is hinted that he is having an affair with the ruby captain’s wife, but the absence of a weapon puzzles the two well-contrasted investigating officers, whose characters and relationships are skilfully drawn. So are those of the different members of the rugby club and their wives, Connon’s student daughter and her boy-friend, and the Connons’ friends and neighbours in their Yorkshire town. An international match at Twickenham provides a fitting finale to this unusual first novel, which is as much concerned with intricacies of character as it is with violent crime.
Times Literary Supplement (6th November 1970): A first novel that is a true detective story, and attractively based on the Rugby Union club of a small Northern town. The writing is competent and sympathetic, and the characters are so decently made—though not overmade for the genre—that the book could well have been even a little longer for their further exploration. The social atmosphere on the fringes between upper-working and lower to middle-middle, is well caught. Altogether, a first work that should be a matter of pride to Mr. Hill and of pleasure to readers.
Maurice Richardson, Observer: Most promising debut with expertly detailed background of rugby football.
H.R.F. Keating, The Times: Goodies a-gogo in this first novel. Rugby-playing background that really permeates, characters real enough to shift in sympathy, strong whodunit element.
Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times: Unusually well-controlled, well-written debut about middle-aged passions on the rampage… Who killed Connon’s wife … and with what extraordinary weapon? Mr Hill makes you really want to know. More from him soon, please.
Francis Goff, Sunday Telegraph: Interesting, realistic first novel.
Alec Spokesman, Northern Echo: Lifelike thrusting dialogue, believable people and a good puzzle with acceptable surprise solution. Solid debut.
Anthony Price, Oxford Mail: Thoroughly satisfying first whodunit set against background of rugby (union) club, one of whose members returns home after concussion and a drink to find – in due course – that he is a widower.