Hill, Reginald. Arms and the Women.

NY: Delacorte, 1999.

Detective Superintendent “Fat Andy” Dalziel, head of Mid-Yorkshire CID, and his able right hand, the more intellectual (and liberal) DCI Peter Pascoe, have been at their jobs a long time. Together with the notably ugly (and gay) Sergeant Wield, they constitute a well-oiled machine when it comes to solving crimes. But this time, the guys are sidelined somewhat by the ladies.

The plot follows the activities of Ellie Pascoe — wife to Peter, mother to young Rose, ex-English teacher, avid protester, and struggling would-be novelist — and a group of other women with whose lives she becomes entangled. It all starts with what appears an attempted kidnapping of Ellie from her own front door, followed by an assault on her friend, Daphne Aldermann, by a man lurking at the end of their block. The cops assume first that someone is trying to get at Pascoe through his family, but they’re wrong. Central to the story, though, is the elderly Serafina “Feenie” Macallum, who has been a dedicated radical and do-gooder since the Spanish Civil War. She’s spent her life spending her large inheritance from her arms mogul father, runs various foundations and action groups, and never takes no for an answer. Ellie, of course, was quickly sucked into her orbit.

But the cast of characters is larger than that. There’s the muscular DC Shirley Novello, detailed to look after Ellie when she goes into hiding at Daphne’s seaside vacation cottage. She thinks it will be boring duty. Boy, is she wrong. And there’s the seriously beautiful Kelly Cornelius, who is far more than the expert money-launderer she at first appears to be. The author, of course, is very good at developing these leading players in multiple dimensions, but he gives equal attention to a considerable gang of greater and lesser Bad Guys.

And aside from all this, there’s Ellie’s “comfort blanket” — the sort-of story she works at just for fun when she has to take a break from The Novel. If you think an imagined meeting between the courtly Aeneas and the fat, aging Odysseus doesn’t seem a likely subject for taking the piss, you haven’t heard ancient Greeks speaking broad Yorkshire idiom. This is one of the all-around best entries I’ve read yet in this very long-running series.


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