I enjoyed all three of these books, but they reminded me of nothing so much as the Golden Age of detective fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, in which amateur sleuths solve puzzling whodunnits. Like the Golden Age stories the settings are comfortable, the characters middle to upper-class and the writing often self-consciously ‘literary’. (A female voice was raised in a reboant cantillation of obscene abuse. That one’s from Exit Lines.)
What that ‘reboant cantillation’ really says is: ‘Now don’t go getting upset. People have been murdered, yes, but there’s no harm done. Sit back and enjoy the view.’ It’s a warm and cuddly view of crime, in which the puzzle takes precedence over emotion. There’s none of the bleak insight of Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone. There’s no understanding of how middle-class frustration can lead to murder, as in PD James’ Death of an Expert Witness. There aren’t any of the cruel, selfish, very modern forms of crime in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks books.
Dalziel and Pascoe are well-drawn characters who meet other well-drawn characters in entertaining mysteries. But all three books step back from the blood and mess of murder, from greed, fear, stupidity and loneliness, and lives left broken in the wake of crime. They live in Cosyland, where nobody ever really gets hurt.