A Clubbable Woman – Reginald Hill (1970) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Amazingly, this is my first introduction to Reginald Hill and his Yorkshire set Dalziel and Pascoe series.  An acclaimed BBC1 adaptation ran from 1996 to 2007 and starred Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan as the two Police Officers likened in this first novel to Laurel and Hardy but I managed never to see a single episode.  Reginald Hill died in 2012.  He wrote 24 Dalziel and Pascoe novels over a period of 39 years (plus a couple of novellas) as well as his Joe Sixsmith novels and a considerable number of standalones under his own name and as Patrick Ruell, Dick Marland and Charles Underhill.  A prolific British writer and I’ve never read anything by him before. Shame on me.

I’m putting this right with the first of a set I purchased from The Book People at one of their too good to miss prices. It was first published in 1970 and it does feel like it.  Do you think crime novels date as well as other genres?  I’m not convinced and it’s often because of attitudes.  Firstly, the title made me feel as if I was a misogynist just by choosing to read it and I found myself carefully positioning it when reading it on the train to make sure people didn’t see it.  This is because of the implications I take from the title that some women deserve what they get and that there are those who can be deemed “clubbable”.

We are in Northern, male, working-class territory here with its rugby club setting and two rather unenlightened police officers.  The contrast between the two, DS Andrew Dalziel nicknamed “The Bruiser” by other members of the rugby club is very definitively of the “old school” of policing and the university educated Sergeant Peter Pascoe, represents the future as it was seen in 1970, anyway.  It’s not too far into the novel before you can appreciate that the tensions between the two would be ripe with future potential to last for a number of books.

Despite their differences, their views on women aren’t that far apart and that is representative of this part of society in the time the novel was written.  They both seem to see pick-up potential with women in inappropriate situations.  Hill has written a police procedural which flows well.  He does protect us somewhat as readers (we never get to know what was in an “obscene” letter sent to one of the characters.  I can’t imagine that many twenty-first century crime writers sparing our blushes).

The wife of a long-standing member of a rugby club is murdered and everyone becomes a suspect.  I didn’t see the twists coming but didn’t feel totally satisfied by the conclusion.  Characterisation is strong. I felt that even the minor characters felt real which suggests very good things for this series.  I don’t feel that this is going to be the strongest of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels but I can be a stickler for chronological order and despite misgivings when I picked up the book it really was the only place to start.

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A Clubbable Woman was published by Harper Collins in 1970.

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8 thoughts on “A Clubbable Woman – Reginald Hill (1970) – A Murder They Wrote Review

  1. Well you certainly made me sit up. I haven’t read anything by Reginald Hill either, but I will look out for his books now. I agree that crime novels don’t date as well. My favourite crime writer is Ed McBain. His 87th precinct series was always a fairly easy read, the main characters were never one dimensional, for the most part they were likeable people and there was a fair amount about their lives away from work. (I have to say that I fell a little in love with one of the main characters).
    I have read some ‘classic’ crime from Amazon, set in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Some are really quite good and they all reflect the attitude of the time. A lot of snobbery towards the working class and women, but that’s how it was and we can’t change history. I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie, there is something wholly satisfying curling up with a cup of tea, a packet of custard creams and a volume of Agatha’s. I loved reading Inspector Frost, you could hear David Jason, but as I re-read them they had not aged well. Or is it because we see various T.V. shows that over the years have kept up with new technology (CSI springs to mind) and we forget that policemen and detectives didn’t have all this way back when. I shall still look out for Reginald Hill as you’ve sparked my interest now.

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    • I’m glad I’ve spiked your interest and you’ll see comments from FictionFan here that indicate that what I was hoping was true that this series moves with the times and gets really good. You might want to dip into one of the later ones, I don’t imagine you’re like me with the chronological order hang-up. I know you are a big Ed McBain fan – I read a couple of them when I was a teenager (which was probably too young to appreciate them). I think I moved from Agatha Christie to Ed McBain as my first adult books. I must seek him out again and re-read some of his as I do remember enjoying them and I can certainly still read and enjoy Agatha Christie.

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  2. My favourite crime series of them all! I assure you that this is indeed one of the weakest – the first three or four in fact are quite fun to read in order because you really see Hill develop as a writer. And by mid-point in the series, not only has the rampant sexism disappeared, but Hill became one of the first of the crime writers to create a really strong regular feminist character, and also had a positively portrayed gay cop long before anyone else I can think of. I hope you get as much enjoyment from the series as it has given me over many decades and many re-reads… 😀

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    • Thanks for this. I had the feeling reading this that it would be a series where we could see this kind of development and I’m actually quite excited by that! I think my issues with it are purely that it reflects the time in which it was written (and how can it do anything else?) and it is illuminating to see how fare we’ve come in attitudes towards the Police, towards women and away from this laddish male society we seemed to have in the seventies. I really am going to try and crack on with this series, but it will have to be in chronological order. Let’s hope the world has not moved on so much by the time I get around to the later novels that I find them outdated!!

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  3. Just read Fictionfan and I will be heading to Amazon shortly. I had to get rid of a lot of my Ed McBain books earlier in the year, gutted, but some of them were so old they were literally falling apart. Once I realised there was a chronological order I did go back and read them again, it gave the characters a whole new perspective. Same with James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. You simply must read those in order. Right then, off to Amazon.

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  4. Pingback: Book Bingo – A Monthly Update – reviewsrevues

  5. Your comment re the dating of crime fiction is an interesting one. Perhaps – I am thinking off the top of my head and this may be complete piffle – Golden Age Crime, specifically, where some of the authors almost became high turnover writing machines to meet the demands of their audience – encouraged less reflection, more (I don’t mean this disparagingly) formulaic approach than literary fiction, where the writer generally takes much longer to research, reflect and write. So, I suspect there may have been far more a laying down of general attitudes (often highly unconscious) My sense is that the lit ficcy writer has to spend much more time reflecting INSIDE their characters – it is almost like the difference between ‘Method Acting’ (from the inside out) and acting from the outside in. Perhaps that deeper reflection also leads to thinking more about the times themselves? Of course, you do find writers from the early thirties (literary ones) also have sprinklings of casual anti-Semitism and class snobbishness. Probably because more of those writers were from more privileged backgrounds anyway. MMM I shall think about your interesting comment/question some more.

    I suppose, also, the obvious one, is that methods of detection etc have radically changed, due to technology, so what we might love in earlier crime fiction would not necessarily be credible now, and we might feel there needs to be a lot about IT. Yawn. Far less interesting to some of us compared to the inheritor of brilliant maverickism which Sherlock Holmes epitomised so well!

    I did, on Fiction Fan’s recc, read Hill’s On Beulah Heights some time ago. Recommended!

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  6. This has given me a lot of food for thought! Thanks, Lady F. Perhaps crime fiction is more of is a reflection of the times we live in and more time-specific than the larger, more general issues of other forms of fiction. The nature of the crime of “The Clubbable Woman” was really entrenched in the 70’s (I still can’t get over the notion that a woman’s behaviour might deem her to be “clubbable”- ie; she deserves what she gets). If that’s the case then it wouldn’t date as well. Likewise, in twenty years time our IT dominant techno-thrillers might seem all rather quaint…. I wonder how much of the 70’s chauvinism in British crime fiction is itself a direct descendent of the American “hard-boiled” detective stuff, which I’m not a huge fan of, as a bit of an off-shoot, rather than our British Golden Age stuff which we crime fans seem to want to see as the ancestor of all we read today. I’m ruminating somewhat and might not be making sense- it obviously needs more thought. Thanks for the comments. I’m not giving up on Reginald Hill but I will need to read them in order!

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