An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill

An Advancment of Learning
Reginald Hill, 1971, 254p
The second novel featuring Dalziel and Pascoe, Reginald Hill's Yorkshire detectives. I read the first novel about a year ago, and wasn't immediately inspired to continue with the series. One of the problems with reading mystery series from the beginning is that the first volume is rarely great. The author is figuring out the characters, the setting, and finding their voice and angle - even more so if this is the authors first series. For example, the first outings of P.D. James's Dalgliesh and Ian Rankin's Rebus - not terrible, but obviously not ready.

Hill's second outing is much more enjoyable. A series of grotesquely improbable murders occurs on a small and somewhat remote college campus. The setting is cozy-style - an insulated and incestuous knot of suspects, but appropriately for its time (the early 1970s) it is lashed through with generational and sexual tension, not to mention generational and sexual experimentation. Superintendent Dalziel is older, corpulent, coarse and direct. His sergeant, Pascoe, is young and university educated - a rarity in a policeman at the time. Pascoe's social science education is a target for constant mockery Dalziel, and the academic setting exacerbates his scorn.

Though credibility is stretched from the starter's pistol, the story is interesting and well told. Hill excels with his secondary characters, though he is more aggressive with scorn and with lust than most. The old maids are generally savaged, and the campus sweater candy is drenched in drool. Largely filtered through the protagonists, the sexism is era-appropriate, though somewhat dissonant to my 21st century ears.

Like James, Hill is concerned with the lives and histories of the primary figures in his mysteries, rather than the mechanics of crime. It makes a richer story, and Hill's writing is thoughtful without being heavy. In this case, though, the climax leaves us with sort of limp motivations for the central crimes. In this book, as with the first, Hill's crimes are improbable and his mysteries a bit soggy, but the thoughtful writing and considered characters makes the flaws easy to forgive.

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