- By Reginald Hill
- First published: UK: Collins, 1971; US: Countryman, 1985
Hill brings the university novels of Michael Innes and J.C. Masterman into the Seventies of sex, drugs, and revolutionary student politics. The former college principal (presumed dead in an Austrian avalanche) is found buried under her own memorial statue, an eight-foot tall bronze nude; a biologist is accused of improper relations with one of his pupils; students hold orgies on the sand dunes; and the number of corpses climbs. Hill himself lectured at the Doncaster College of Education; insert your own facetious remark.
The second Dalziel and Pascoe novel is altogether more confident and stylish than their début, A Clubbable Woman. An advancement, one might say! The mystery is complex and meaty; the solution is essentially the same (gur vavgvny zheqre znl or znafynhtugre – cbffvoyl – naq nabgure punenpgre pbaprnyf vg), but the initial crime leads to further deaths. Hill has found his voice; like Terry Pratchett’s (one of Hill’s top five authors), it is vivid, witty, and assured, a pleasure in itself without overshadowing the story. Advancement is altogether delightful – and Hill will do much better in the years ahead, soaring to become Britain’s greatest crime writer since the Golden Age.
The book introduces Ellie Soper, later to become Pascoe’s wife; and charismatic student leader Franny Roote, a recurring character in the late-period works.
An academic scandal is brewing at Holm Coultram College, where a lecturer stands accused of falsifying marks in order to fail his former mistress. But this fades into insignificance when a woman’s body is found buried in the staff garden. It has been there at least fie years and identification proves difficult. And when her identity is finally established, it only confuses matters further for Superintendent Dalziel and Sergeant Pascoe. Dalziel feels out of place in the college community but he seems to thrive on the antagonism he arouses in both staff and students. Pascoe, more at home, is both aided and confused by the presence of an ‘old flame’ on the staff. There are two more deaths and both detectives find themselves under attack, physical as well as verbal, before they uncover the truth of what has been going on in this quiet scholastic backwater.
The Times (H.R.F. Keating, 6th January 1972): Goody-crammed. Seaside college murders splendidly illuminating the liberal dilemma. Each new Hill henceforth will evoke the “Aha” of delight ahead.
Times Literary Supplement (4th February 1972): An all-right-to-good story of murderous high jinks, old and new, at one of those colleges lately converted and upgraded from all-female to mixed. But the taste is a bit acid.
Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times: An excellently adult mystery story, well written and well constructed, with vivid portraits of students, staff and policemen at a seaside College of Education where an auburn-wigged skeleton is accidentally unearthed.
The Times Educational Supplement: A well-structured plot, that entertains at all levels and moves the author well up the First Division in my Thriller Writers’ League.
Francis Goff, Sunday Telegraph: Staff room infighting, student hi-jinking and individualistic police working all marvellously described.
Yorkshire Post: The college background is tellingly drawn (Mr. Hill is a lecturer in Doncaster), the plot is well schemed and the total effect is a satisfying puzzle solved.
Matthew Coady, Guardian: Student politics, Common Room bitchiness, and some exceptionally liberal studies are interwoven in a whodunit which maintains a sharp interest in the puzzle and never ceases to entertain.
Alec Spokesman, Northern Echo: A joy to read.
Violet Grant, Daily Telegraph: It’s enjoyably light-hearted and trendy.
Anthony Price, Oxford Mail: Altogether a highly pleasurable read.