Hill, Reginald. A Pinch of Snuff.

NY: Harper, 1978.

In the last book of the “Superintendent Dalziel” series, Andy Dalziel pretty much had the story to himself, DI Peter Pascoe having departed on his honeymoon. In this fifth offering, the opposite is the case. Pascoe is visiting his dentist, Dr. Shorter, and after the filling is tapped in, he’s asked to have a drink and give some advice.

Shorter, who likes a good blue film (younger readers probably won’t know what that means), is concerned that the young actress in a flick he saw a few nights before at the Calliope, a private club (which means the films they show don’t have to be licensed — something else that will sound strange to modern readers), might actually have had her teeth knocked out in the big naked fight scene. Even though both men are aware that practically anything can be faked on the silver screen, if there’s one thing the dentist knows, it’s teeth and how they behave.

So Pascoe promises to take a look, which involves him with Dr. Haggard, who used to run a private school and now operates the Calliope Kinema Club on the same premises. Pascoe’s boss, Dalziel, a bloody-minded working-class conservative who assumes the worst of everyone, is condescending of his underling’s interest, especially when the actress from the film turns out to have perfectly lovely teeth. But then Haggard is brutally murdered and the club ransacked. That gets them all involved and more connections are made, and the plot spreads like a spilled pot of ale.

Like the other early books in this series, reading it is almost like time travel, there are so many social differences between then and now. This is particularly true of the racist, anti-liberal, anti-intellectual, anti-feminist things Dalziel knows he can get away with in pursuing villains, and does. He wouldn’t last a week if he were entering the force today. Pascoe, a “graduate copper,” is a far more interesting character to my mind, and this volume also introduces Sgt. Wield (who has numerous talents and also a secret) and Ms. Lacewing, the more abrasive sort of feminist, even for those who mostly agree with her.

There’s also the chronological problem that the most recent book in the series came out in 2009 and Andy is still a Superintendent, which means — assuming he was already in his fifties in 1975, in order to have reached that high rank — he must now be in his nineties. But, hey – it’s a good yarn.


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