Hill, Reginald. The Wood Beyond.

NY: Delacorte, 1996.

This excellent police procedural series has reached the point now where the author feels sufficiently secure to experiment with narrative methods and side-plots. And it mostly works. DCI Peter Pascoe of Mid-Yorkshire CID is away from the job at the moment, overseeing the cremation of his recently deceased grandmother, who (he’s regretfully aware) could be hard work at times. The old lady had a lot of secrets, the most important ones dating back to her girlhood during the Great War. Pascoe is going to spend much of the book gradually uncovering those unsettling revelations and they’re going to have a profound effect on him.

Meanwhile, in the main plot, a raid by a militant animal rights group on a research lab accidentally uncovers a skeletonized body on the facility’s grounds and Pascoe’s boss, Superintendent Andy Dalziel, takes an interest – hoping, of course, that the remains will be so old they can be regarded as just a historical mystery and not a case he would be required to investigate. In the process, he becomes personally involved (though it’s a little hard to envision, if you know Dalziel . . .) with “Cap” Marvell, the head of the animal rights group, who is close to his age but only about half his size. There was a previous attack on another company’s laboratory in East Yorkshire where a security guard was killed, and this latest action might be related to that one, which is going to complicate things for him.

Hill spends a good deal of time on the more horrifying aspects of the First World War in Flanders, not only the fight in the literally suffocating mud of the trenches but also the way the aristocratic British officer class treated its own working-class soldiers. This has little to do with the main case until the very end, when coincidence plays a large part. Some readers, I suspect, are going to raise their eyebrows and shake their heads, but I thought it only showed just how small a world Yorkshire is, especially in terms of historical class. Not a bad story, and you’re going to learn some history along the way.

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