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by Reginald Hill
Harper, October 2009
368 pages
ISBN: 0061451967

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Followers of this series will recall that Superintendent Andy Dalziel, aka The Fat Bastard, almost died in a bomb blast in the last novel but one. Though he has pretty much recovered physically, it remains for him to convince both himself and the rest of the mid-Yorkshire CID, especially Peter Pascoe, that he is genuinely back on form. This might be easier if he did not find himself at eight o'clock in the morning at Sunday services in the cathedral on what he thought was actually Monday morning.

He's not there seeking spiritual solace but a little space in which to recover his grasp on time. The cathedral organist is working away on Bach's Art of the Fugue (not, of course, that Andy recognizes it as such, though he knows what a fugue is, "Bit of a tune that chases itself round and round until it vanishes up its own arsehole." And so Hill introduces the notion that orders this very clever narrative.

The central action unfolds in a series of quite short chapters, each firmly time-stamped, beginning at 8:10 in the morning and ending just short of midnight the same day, some sixteen hours later (take that, Jack Bauer!). Over the course of the day, Dalziel will be asked to determine whether a long-lost husband has actually surfaced. He will convict himself of responsibility for the serious injury sustained by a colleague he's asked to help out in this private investigation and will come into conflict with Pascoe, who is standing, perhaps brooding, in the wings waiting for Dalziel to hand command over to his heir. It's a lot for under twenty-four hours, but not more than Hill can juggle to a brilliant conclusion.

The temptation to go on and on about the pleasures of this book is almost overwhelming. It is beautifully constructed, impeccably written, literate in the best possible way, and very funny. The fugue may structure the narrative, but, as we have seen before with Hill, Homer plays a role as well. Or at least the Greek notion of our daily lives taking on a larger significance as they reflect the eternal preoccupations of the Gods. Or something like that. Though others on the squad may see Dalziel's return to be like that of a champion boxer trying to make a comeback after a defeat, that one-man chorus, Edgar Wield, sees it "in terms of Odysseus come to reclaim his kingdom." Where that leaves Pascoe is an interesting question.

But all this talk about the classics and literary allusion should not put readers off. There's enough in the way of tension, suspense, and rather rude jokes to keep everything clipping along at a very satisfactory pace. Even more engaging is Hill's approach to his characters. Whether they have been on the scene for thirty-nine years or are newly minted for this story, whether they are on the side of law and order, thorough villains, or merely flawed, they all have some claim on our sympathies or at least our comprehension.

And then of course, there's the Fat Man himself, a character who keeps growing and deepening as Hill conducts him on his sometimes stumbling course into the later stages of his career. MIDNIGHT FUGUE marks, almost unbelievably, the twenty-fourth appearance of Dalziel since he first came on the scene in A CLUBBABLE WOMAN. I can think of few authors who have been able to sustain a series for so long and none who have done it with Hill's grace, style, and endless inventiveness. Andy may be a bit tattered around the edges, but Reginald Hill is still at the very top of his game.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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