Hill, Reginald. The Price of Butcher’s Meat.

NY: Harper, 2008.

Hill is, among other things a Janeite — a devoted fan of the works of Jane Austen — and the setting and characters of this immediate sequel to Death Comes for the Fat Man are taken wholly from Miss Austen’s last and unfinished work, Sanditon.

Except for Detective Superintendent Dalziel, of course, who’s supposed to be recuperating from his injuries at a local American-owned clinic, but who almost immediately hunts up the town pub. And the fact that Austen’s novel was never completed (or possibly abandoned) means the author can take the story wherever he likes.

The plot involves the would-be tourist Mecca of “Sandytown,” on the Yorkshire coast, and architect Tom Parker, who’s trying to develop the place in consortium with Lady Daphne Brereton, the local wealthy snob (though the title came only from her second marriage). She’s not very well thought of by anyone not related to her (and not many who are), and she winds up charred in an iron basket used at her big invitational pig-roast. The bored Dalziel, naturally, leaps at the opportunity to get involved, even though he’s not officially fit for duty, and even though his deputy, DCI Peter Pascoe, is perfectly capable of handling things (and has been sort of reveling in his independence lately).

The characters are well done, especially Charlotte (“Charley”) Heywood, who’s only visiting but who provides the reader with a good POV as she follows the murder(s) and sorts out the players, from Sir Ted, the handsome but not overly bright baronet and his ice-queen sister, to the head of the clinic and the Pollyanna-ish Parker, and especially the nine-year-old Minnie Parker, who loves a gory adventure and has talents in gathering intelligence unnoticed. (And there’s a key character carried over from an earlier book in the series which I haven’t yet read. That’ll teach me.) The solution to the whole thing actually comes in multiple layers, so don’t assume you’ve figured it out till you get to the very end. A very good story.

I found thoroughly annoying, though, Hill’s decision to cast the first third of the book in alternating chapters as emails from Charley to her older sister, a nurse in Africa. Though she’s newly graduated from university with a psychology degree, Charley’s voice and style sound more like my twelve-year-old granddaughter — especially in the overuse of exclamations!!!! At the same time, she quotes long stretches of overheard dialogue among the other characters verbatim from memory, which is simply not believable. (Good mystery writers have even their trained detectives merely summarize conversations.) And she apparently thinks dashes are preferable to commas (and ignores apostrophes and quote marks entirely), which the author seems to think represents trendy email style. (I believe he’s confusing email with texting, even in 2008.) This changes the feel of Charley’s narrative (conventionally, a dash in print denotes an abrupt change in subject), and it also screws up the formatting in the Kindle version. Dalziel, meanwhile, does all his talking to a digital recorder (named “Mildred”), which means the other chapters are all in italics. When the cops get into the act, we get “regular” chapters in third person, but there are still quite a few emails and italicized recordings. This book would have been much improved for the reader’s comfort by standardizing the formatting.

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