Obituary: Reginald Hill - Best-selling author of the crime novels featuring Dalziel and Pascoe

REGINALD Hill was no conventional crime novelist. He wrote in an involved style that positively wallowed in minute information; his plots were involved.

Hill delighted in challenging his readers – the solving of the plots and remembering all the clues were part of the thrill of reading a Hill novel. He created a darker side to crime that was never overtly violent but had a subtlety and made his books a compelling read. Another major plus was Hill’s dry wit which invested his novels with a sharp reality.

But it was his two Yorkshire stalwarts, Supt Andrew Dalziel and Sgt Peter Pascoe, that made Hill a household name, especially when the BBC made their television series.

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It was the two policemen’s contrasting backgrounds and personalities that made them such excellent material. Dalziel (“Fat Andy”), was rotund, bullish and no follower of correct procedure, and conflicted with Pascoe, who was lean and did everything by the rule book. Pascoe had been to university so that heightened the tensions. Into this social cocktail Hill introduced Dalziel’s feminist wife, Elie, and a gay sergeant.

Hill often interrupted the storyline with flashbacks and included diary entries or letters from the past which sometimes gave clues to the overall crime. In later books Hill made references to contemporary issues such as the miners’ strike and the Hungerford massacre.

Fellow crime writer, Ian Rankin, reviewed a Hill novel for Scotland on Sunday and wrote: “He just keeps getting better and better! Hill, a true master, never fails to shock and surprise.”

Rankin paid tribute to Hill over the weekend: “Reg was a lovely man, a fine writer and a great wit.”

Reginald Charles Hill (always called Reg by friends) was the son of a professional footballer and when Hill was aged three the family moved to the Lake District.

He attended firstly Stanwix Primary School and then Carlisle Grammar School, where he excelled in English Literature. He was awarded a scholarship to read English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford and then did his national service with the Border Regiment (1955–1957).

Hill’s first job was a student officer with the British Council in Edinburgh and he then became a lecturer at Doncaster College of Education, a post he retained for 15 years before becoming a full-time writer. The decision to become a writer was not, Hill recalled years later, difficult. “I had been making up stories as long as I could remember and writing them down as long as I could write.”

His first novel was a thriller (Fell of Dark) but his first book of any consequence was a Dalziel and Pascoe one (A Clubbable Woman) which came out in 1970. It was a whodunit set in the north of England and made an immediate impact.

The BBC decided to film the series in 1996 and the drama ran successfully for a decade. It was the television programmes that brought Hill international recognition and, indeed, he turned down the offer to write the scripts.

He was cautious of the project as he had been unhappy with an earlier attempt by Yorkshire Television (starring Hale and Pace), in 1993, to film a novel. The project was eagerly taken up by the BBC, which not only engaged writers such as Alan Plater and Malcolm Bradbury but cast the two central roles from strength.

Both Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan brought a definite wit and charm to their roles, which enlivened the action. They became a celebrated double act in the best traditions of the music hall. Indeed, many thought they based their characterisations on Laurel and Hardy.

But Hill refused to be known only for the Dalziel and Pascoe books. A series of five books set in Luton featuring a black private investigator called Joe Sixsmith proved very successful, as did several thrillers written under various pseudonyms.

Hill enjoyed exploring new styles and experimenting with fresh ideas. His last Dalziel and Pascoe novel, Midnight Fugue, appeared in 2009.

Hill, with his grey hair and beard, was a kindly and gentle man with a wicked sense of humour. Always generous of his time and help to young writers, he remained modest and softly spoken. He was happiest with his dogs in Ravenglass in Cumbria and to the end maintained a strict routine, being at his typewriter every morning at 9 o’clock.

Hill was the recipient of many awards, including Gold and Diamond Daggers from the Crime Writers’ Association and their Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

Rankin said of Hill’s writing: “Reg’s plotting was elegant and his characters were larger than life – once you read about Andy Dalziel he’s never forgotten.”

Reginald Hill was married for 51 years to Patricia Ruell, who survives him. ALASDAIR STEVEN