A real treat

2010-12-29 00:00

CRIME writers don’t come better than Reginald Hill. Forget the television series of Dalziel and Pascoe, which has never come close to the quality of the books: read the real deal. His latest novel, The Woodcutter, is a stand-alone, nothing to do with Hill’s series detectives, and it is great.

Wolf Hadda grows up as a poor boy in Cumbria where his father is a forester. But for Wolf to win the boss’s daughter, he has to “improve” himself, and so he vanishes for five years, coming back wealthy and with the rough edges smoothed away. It is fairy-tale stuff, emphasised by Hill’s always erudite playing with names, too many to mention, but always a delight. He gets the girl, and all seems rosy until, years on, a police raid turns up evidence of fraud in his companies and kiddy porn on his computer. The fairy tale morphs to nightmare.

Wolf, after various vicissitudes, ends up minus an eye and a few fingers and with a long prison sentence. If he shows remorse, he might get parole, and his attractive young prison psychiatrist, Alva (Elf) Ozigbo, becomes convinced of that remorse, so Wolf is out. And then the fun begins. Wolf, in the missing years, developed some unusual skills and now he puts them to use. He wants to prove that he was framed.

Hill has created a complex plot, touching on the shadowy underworld of mysterious departments who can make people disappear and evidence appear, crooked cops, villains and good guys. The identity of the bad guys may not be a great surprise, but there are plenty of twists along the way, and as always, the quality of Hill’s writing lifts The Woodcutter way up above genre fiction. Exciting, fantastical, amusing and gripping, this is a real treat.

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