Reginald Hill is mystery-writing royalty. His prose flows. His words excite. His characters madden and charm. But sometimes there is a thud or two along the way.
The Price of Butcher's Meat is a hefty (519 pages) addition to the Dalziel/Pascoe canon. It is broken up into six "volumes." The first volume consists of alternating voices. The first belongs to 22-year-old Charley Heywood, and her narrative consists of emails she sends to her sister of the events preceding the murder. The second voice is Yorkshire Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel's. He is recuperating at a fancy rest home by the sea, and his psychiatrist has given him an MP3 recorder to keep an account of his thoughts, in the hope that he will narrate away the trauma suffered when he was blown up by a bomb in the last book (Death Comes for the Fat Man).
I have to say that I found this section gimmicky, despite Hill's creation of a little bit of Yorkshire, replete with (mostly) interesting characters and interlocking stories, a veritable Agatha Christie-like cornucopia of potential suspects and suspicions. One of my favorite aspects of Hill's writing is his ability to give different voices to his characters. Of course, he gives Andy Dalziel his famously blustery and rude persona, and we are able to enjoy his thoughts for pages at a time as he speaks into "Mildred," his MP3 recorder. But perhaps it was a stretch to imagine he could do justice to a 22-year-old woman, whom I sometimes found to be more annoying than charming and whose intelligence was much vaunted by the other characters but comparatively absent in concrete example.
After this first section, the book (mostly) returns to third-person narrative. Thank goodness. Then we get to the meat of the matter -- literally. Odious Lady Denham (pardon me while I go whole hog and let the pig out of the blanket) is found roasting on a spit intended for the pig at a community hog roast. Cui bono? We already have met, at length, the characters who will be examined in the rest of the book for motives and opportunity: There are relatives, both blood and shirttail, business partners, and other characters who have run afoul of Lady Juggernaut.
In an homage to Jane Austen, Hill has tried to produce a novel of status and class structure. Charley Heywood is the plucky independent young heroine. Thud.
While it is obvious this is not my favorite of Hill's books because of the uneven presentation, a simplicity of some of the characters, and especially because it lacks the bite I've come to relish, Hill is a master. I would rather read this again and again than some of what is being published today.