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Monday, August 25, 2008

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill

Hill, Reginald. An Advancement of Learning. I have no idea how many of the Dalziel & Pascoe novels I've read. I'd read everything the library had to offer, but some of them have escaped me. I found this 2008 edition of the 2nd Dalziel & Pascoe on the new book shelf the other day. Originally published in 1971, this novel has the fat man and a young Sergeant Pascoe still uneasy in their relationship.

A first-rate mystery, although not as full of literary references as some of the later books, An Advancement of Learning introduces Ellie Soper and Franny Roote. If you are a fan of the series, you know that Ellie and Pascoe are married in later novels and that Franny, that strange (sociopath?) young man, features in several of Hill's best novels.

In this second novel of the series, the characters of Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Ellie Soper, and Franny Roote are in their incipient stages of characterization, and that alone makes the novel worth reading. Hill has created the basics of each one, but knows they will be worth the trouble he takes to develop them in succeeding novels - they are clay (interesting clay) waiting for the breath of life at this point.

A good mystery this, but especially interesting in seeing the way Hill's characters and style originated. Although chapters all have epigraphs from Sir Frances Bacon, the multi-layered allusions that are such fun in later novels are not yet present.

I did miss Sergeant Wield, whose lovable personality transcends his appearance, but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting some of Hill's characters in their infancy.

Fiction. Mystery/detective fiction. 2008 re-edition (UK original, 1971). 288 pages.


  1. As you say this is one of the very early Dalziel and Pascoe novels and I've always felt that in these initial books Hill was playing it safe. It's obvious from his later work that he is a man of great erudition and learning but possibly didn't feel that his publishers would let him get away with showing that at this stage in his writing. It's interesting to read his books chronologically and see how he begins to change his approach. I'm with you about Wield, by the way. I always miss him when he's not around, which is one of the reasons the 'Pictures of Perfection' is my favourite book in the series.

  2. Ann - I think I'm going to order A Clubbable Woman (the first one, right?) and try going back through the series in order. There aren't many books that I'm willing to re-read, but Hill's are certainly in that category, and I've never read the first one.

  3. I've got A Clubbable Woman sitting on my shelves. I must start this - sounds like a very good series! I definitely like series in which the characters grow and you actually get to know them more.

  4. Yes, that's the first of the Dalziel books, although there are some earlier one-offs which are interesting. I shouldn't worry about re-visiting some of the later books. Hill is one of those writers where there is always more to find on a second read, especially once he starts to work in the style and content of other authors. I might even join you!

  5. iliana - It really is an excellent series with great characters. And yes, the characters definitely grow - the Dalziel & Pascoe of An Advancement of Learning are no where near the vibrant individuals they become.

    Ann - I ordered A Clubable Woman yesterday! There are 23 Dalziel & Pascoe according to Wickipedia and maybe 30-40 other books. Wah! I didn't care for the Joe Sixsmith novel, so that series doesn't interest me, but I do love Dalziel & Pascoe.

  6. I've heard so much about this series and I really think I need to get with the program and start on it! Sounds really good. Based on the discussion here I might start with A Clubbable Woman--unless you have other advice. Thanks for this :)

  7. I'm not much of a mystery reader and I have never heard of the series but you have me interested in this one. Does one need to start with the first book or is there a better one to start with?

  8. Gentle Reader - The later novels are better because the characters are better developed and Hill is more comfortable with including the allusions, but I've now ordered A Clubable Woman because it was such fun to see the characters early on in An Advancement of Learning.

    stefanie - Some of the older books are now being re-printed, but I started in the middle. Picture of Perfection and Beulah Wood might be good introductions.