April 19, 2003

Singing the Sadness, by Reginald Hill

This is another book I picked up in Australia, and it's rather different than anything else of his I've read. To begin with, it's not a Dalziel/Pascoe mystery; it's not even a police procedural. Instead, it concerns a machinist-turned-private-eye named Joe Sixsmith. He's black, and he's lives in the mean streets of Luton, which I gather might be a redundant statement. At least, Hill doesn't go out of his way to tell us that Sixsmith is black, which caused a number of events in the book to be rather perplexing until I finally clued in.

This is not the first Joe Sixsmith novel, but it's the only one I found while I was there. Joe's Aunt Mirabelle is a staunch member of the Boyling Corner Chapel, and a cornerstone of the chapel's choir. Joe, I gather, isn't much of a member of the chapel, but thanks to his singing voice and the wishes of his redoubtable aunt is also a member of the choir, which is on its way to a choral festival in Wales. They're big on this sort of thing in Wales, so I'm given to understand. And naturally once they get to Llanffugiol there are alarums and excursions and Joe is called upon to help the locals--several different groups of locals--with their investigations.

I haven't made up my mind about this book yet. It didn't hold my attention nearly was well as Hill's other books have, but I was suffering from jet lag at the time, so it might not be Hill's fault. And then, Luton, not Llanfugiol, is really Joe's place. It's hard to judge him without seeing him in his native surroundings.

I liked Joe Sixsmith and his aunt, though we didn't see much of her; I liked his girlfriend, but we didn't see much of her either; I didn't like his best friend particularly, and this book didn't give me much reason to. I might feel differently if I'd read the earlier books first, of course. The book clearly suffers from being in the middle of a series; Hill slacked off on the character development of the continuing characters.

So the book gets an extremely qualified thumbs up, in that I'd gladly read more of the series. But that's the most I can say.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 19, 2003 02:59 PM