An Advancement of Learning

Reginald Hill

The second book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series sends the two mismatched Yorkshire policemen among university students, a group for which Andy Dalziel has no great love. In fact, when he hears a dead body has been found on the grounds of Holm Coultram College, he thinks of it as rather a good start. This is 1971, and the police force does not enjoy the warmest of relations with the Ivory Tower. Nevertheless, Dalziel takes himself to college, where the single corpse is followed by another and then another, until even Dalziel is forced to admit that someone is going after the academic community with rather excessive zeal.

Now Dalziel and Pascoe have to find out how her body ended up underneath the statue, and who would have wanted her to die. Dalziel and Pascoe begin to trace Miss Girling's last weeks, and soon find themselves embroiled in academic politics and intrigue. It turns out that several people at the college were also there when Miss Girling was there, and could have had a reason to kill her. In the midst of the investigation, Anita Sewell, a student at the college, is found murdered. She had allegedly been having an affair with Biology Lecturer Sam Fallowfield and had accused him of falsifying her grades so as to fail her for that course. Fallowfield, who was hired at Holm Coultram College during Miss Girling's tenure there, seems to be a prime suspect in both deaths - until he too ends up dead. Now Dalziel and Pascoe have to untangle a complicated web of relationships and events to get to the truth behind all three deaths. The murders take place in an academic setting, so one element woven through this novel is the academic atmosphere.

Throughout the novel, too, we follow the academic routines of classes, staff meetings, academic politics and so on. This novel was published in 1971, so of course, times have changed greatly. But the story captures the college setting during a time of social, political and academic upheaval.Another element, related to the setting, is the number of varied characters, some of them unique to the college setting of the time during which the story was written. For instance, there's the "Old Guard", represented by faculty members Jane Scotby and Edith Disney, neither of whom is happy about the opening of the campus to men. There are newer faculty members such as Sam Fallowfield, who want to make the school more responsive to the times and to student needs. There's College President Simeon Landor, the school's first male leader, who has to hold his campus together and deal with the police investigation, the publicity about the deaths, activist students and the divisions among his faculty.

Dalziel and Pascoe have got a complex relationship and it adds much to the story. Dalziel is a working-class Yorkshireman who isn't particularly comfortable in what he sees as the rarefied atmosphere of a college campus. In fact, when he arrives on campus, Dalziel says, "This is what they spend my bloody taxes on, is it?"At the end of the novel, as he and Pascoe are leaving campus for the last time, Dalziel looks out the window of the car they're in and says of the students he sees: "Look at the sods! … Just look at them. And this is supposed to be a place of bloody learning."

Pascoe, on the other hand, has a university education and is quite comfortable in the college atmosphere. He and Dalziel both have strong personalities and because they're quite different, are sometimes at odds. Dalziel's in charge and has no problem inconveniencing Pascoe if he wants something done. Pascoe, for his part, is all too well aware of Dalziel's shortcomings, and sometimes resents the way he's treated. And yet, the two detectives do have respect for each other and they have complementary skills. They've got a successful partnership that's lasted a long time because of this. Their differences, though, make for some humourous moments.

The interplay between Dalziel and Pascoe, especially in this academic atmosphere that makes Dalziel uncomfortable and Pascoe right at home, so to speak, adds a rich layer to this mystery. So does the setting and the mix of characters. The link between a five-year-old murder and two recent deaths adds a layer of interest, too.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Reginald Hill:

Born in West Hartlepool, County Durham, The United Kingdom, Reginald Charles Hill is a contemporary English crime writer, and the winner in 1995 of the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

After National Service (1955-57) and studying English at St Catherine's College, Oxford University (1957-60) he worked as a teacher for many years, rising to Senior Lecturer at Doncaster College of Education. In 1980 he retired from salaried work in order to devote himself full-time to writing.

Hill is best known for his more than 20 novels featuring the Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel, Peter Pascoe and Edgar Wield. He has also written more than 30 other novels, including five featuring Joe Sixsmith, a black machine operator turned private detective in a fictional Luton. Novels originally published under the pseudonyms of Patrick Ruell, Dick Morland, and Charles Underhill have now appeared under his own name. Hill is also a writer of short stories, and ghost tales.

 

 

Much of the action takes place at Holm Coultram College, a former women's college that has since become co-educational. The school's undergoing renovations that involve moving an eight-foot-tall bronze memorial from one part of campus to another. When the statue and its base are lifted up, everyone's shocked to discover a body underneath. Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Sergeant Peter Pascoe are called in to investigate the death, and before long, it's clear that the body is that of Alison Girling, former President of the College, to whom the statue was dedicated. Miss Girling had been College President until five years earlier, when she left for a skiing holiday and was later reported dead in a freak avalanche.