Review

The Price of Butcher’s Meat: A Dalziel and Pascoe Mystery

by Reginald Hill

THE PRICE OF BUTCHER’S MEAT is the 23rd installment in
Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe mystery series
and immediately follows up his previous entry, DEATH COMES FOR THE
FAT MAN. The “fat man” of the title is Police
Superintendent Andy Dalziel, who spent that entire novel in a coma
as the result of a terrorist bombing attack that seriously injured
him.

The current book begins with Dalziel convalescing at a spa in a
small British seaside resort town known as Sandytown. His physical
wounds have mostly healed, but concern still remains for the mental
anguish he has experienced. While feeling like himself, he is still
somewhat forgetful and even shows up at a Sandytown pub garbed in
his bathrobe and wearing only one slipper. He is given a personal
recorder --- that he cleverly names Mildred --- by the head of the
Avalon Spa where he is recovering. The intention of the recorder is
to allow Dalziel to freely capture all his thoughts in an effort to
break through his short-term memory damage.

The style of THE PRICE OF BUTCHER’S MEAT is quite unique.
The first 162 pages are written in either email form or as
transcripts from Dalziel’s recordings on Mildred. The emails
are from another character, Charlotte “Charley”
Heywood, sent to her sister on a mission in Africa. From these
sources, we are given a view of the events happening at both the
Avalon Spa and the small village of Sandytown and, as a result,
receive first-hand introductions to the many characters involved as
they interact with either Dalziel or Heywood.

The story jumps to straight narrative in between the
email/transcript passages. The cause of this shift in style is that
a murder has occurred at a barbecue celebration. The victim is the
local town matron and resident rich person Lady Denham, who has
made her millions as a result of her late husband’s pig farm
and ham industry. The irony is that her body is found shoved inside
a pig roasting basket over the barbecue that everyone was eating
from. Because she was in the process of reworking her last will and
testament, there are several characters with good reason to want
her dead --- either out of bitterness or to expedite the will
payout to the beneficiaries.

Called to lead the murder investigation is Chief Inspector Peter
Pascoe and his team of investigators. Pascoe reports directly to
Dalziel and now must deal with him as a potential witness.
Additionally, Dalziel’s old habits kick in and he begins to
“assist” in the investigation as well. Several
witnesses give stories that don’t exactly match, and the
investigators seem to be running around in circles with no direct
evidence of who was responsible for the murder of Lady Denham. To
make things that much more interesting, a mysterious character from
Dalziel and Pascoe’s past, Franny Roote, is also a resident
of the Avalon Spa as he is permanently paralyzed from the waist
down and wheelchair bound. What makes his presence so alarming is
that both Dalziel and Pascoe thought he was dead.

The murder spree continues as another body is found in addition
to one of the many suspects being thrown from a cliff and left in
critical condition. Pascoe and his team are at a total loss and now
under the gun to find the murder(s) before more victims pile up.
One of the characters likens the events that are transpiring to
Agatha Christie’s novel/play, THE HOLLOW --- whereby the
character you dismiss from the frame because they’ve been
caught apparently in flagrante can turn out to be the perpetrator
after all. Without giving anything away, the reader will be
challenged to figure out who is to blame here.

Hill’s writing style always brings a refreshing new view
to a genre filled with authors who continually publish fine mystery
series themselves. However, there are not many who match
Hill’s ability to capture the interpersonal play between
criminal and investigator as he has done regularly with the
Dalziel and Pascoe series. At one point in the novel a
character comes to the realization that death is the cure for all
diseases. Funny enough, that plays into the U.K. title when it was
released there earlier this year. THE PRICE OF BUTCHER’S MEAT
comes from a quote within Jane Austen’s SANDITON. Fans of
classic British literature will enjoy this allusion, and lovers of
a good mystery will be totally engaged by Hill’s latest
effort.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 19, 2011

The Price of Butcher’s Meat: A Dalziel and Pascoe Mystery
by Reginald Hill

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061451932
  • ISBN-13: 9780061451935