For a long time, I have been looking for a route into Reginald Hill’s extensive body of crime writing. He is most known for his Dalziel and Pascoe novels, but my multiple attempts to read A Clubbable Women, the first in the series, have been unsuccessful. Fortunately, Dalziel and Pascoe Hunt the Christmas Killer (and Other Stories) came along this year. This posthumous collection of previously unpublished stories, published this year, proved a great entry point. I feel like I came away with an insight into the scope of Hill’s work, because not all the stories are Christmassy and not all of them star Dalziel and Pascoe. One or two of them even edge closer to supernatural or weird than they do to traditional crime stories. It has a foreword from Val McDermid, which I enjoyed thoroughly, about her first experience of reading Hill and the reason she keeps coming back to him. Continuing to reread an author is a great compliment anyway – but if you are rereading the works of a crime author, that’s a particularly strong recommendation, because it means there is something to their work beyond twists and puzzles. Having read these, I can quite see why she keeps coming back to Hill – I imagine that, once I’ve made my way through his body of work, he will go onto my regular rereads list too.

As is ever the way with a short story collection, some of these are stronger than others. However, a much higher proportion of them are successes than is usual in a collection, I think – even the ones I didn’t much like were ones I didn’t like because they weren’t to my taste rather than because they weren’t well-written. (For instance, there are one or two that are explicitly from a murderer’s point of view, a device I rarely enjoy). Here are a couple that were highlights – but honestly, I loved them all!

Market Forces – Having just said that I don’t like to be inside a murderer’s head, allow me to immediately render myself a hypocrite. This story, starring extremely recent widower George Faber, starts with the following piece of advice he has often given his employees:

Cornering a market is pointless unless you’ve cracked the distribution problem.
He had been wiser than he knew, and the getting of wisdom is a great sorrow. For he had cornered the market in dead Mrs Fabers without giving any thought at all to the problem of distributing the remains.

Honestly, a story from the perspective of a somewhat incompetent wife-killer has no business being this funny, and yet! I really loved the gallows humour in this, which was threaded throughout the collection.

Where The Snow Lay Dinted – the last entry in the collection, this is a thoroughly Christmassy, funny Dalziel and Pascoe story. Dalziel has managed to get himself invited along to the Pascoes’ family Christmas in a fancy hotel, but when they wake up on the big day, the food has gone missing, along with mysterious marks in the snow… Who could it be? Really loved this – as well as being funny and festive, it’s also a surprisingly insightful look at the weird and wonderful class divides that still exist in English towns and villages.

Overall, as well as being an enjoyable introduction to Hill, this was a great way to get into the festive spirit, despite the fact that the book is so very full of bodies. I started it on the evening after I put my tree up, and it was just right. I don’t think I can give any higher compliment than saying this work reminds me strongly of PD James – though I hope that, like James’, his novels are a smidge less bleak – and I look forward to exploring his work!

This isn’t quite as good as last year’s tree, but I also wasn’t nearly injured or arrested in sevice of its decoration, so I think that counts as a win.