Review: Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill

Midnight Fugue is the 20th and final book to count towards the obsessed level for the 2010 Audio Book Challenge (that’s one challenge done, three to go for twenty ten).

It is several months since he was nearly killed in an explosion and DS Andy Dalziel is officially back at work though there are doubts, both in his own mind and in others’, about whether he is quite the operator he once was. One morning he wakes up and rushes to work thinking he is running late only to realise en route that it’s Sunday and his day off. He calls into a Church, to confirm his suspicion about the day of the week, where he is approached by Gina Wolfe. She is the current girlfriend of a London cop Dalziel knows and, on the advice of her boyfriend, she asks Dalziel’s help in determining whether her husband, who disappeared seven years ago and was presumed dead, is really living in Yorkshire. In parallel we meet Goldy Gidman, former gangster turned corporate success, whose main goal in life now is to ensure that is son David, currently a Tory MP, continues his successful political career unhindered by anything including his father’s shady past resurfacing. Over the course of a single day these two threads then intertwine in a myriad of ways.

In musical terms a fugue is a formal piece which has multiple parts that are thematically related though independent and which, in words that could only come from the mouth of Andy Dalziel is “…a bit of a tune that chases itself round and round ’til it vanishes up its own asshole”. Which, though I might not have put it so crudely, is exactly what Hill has created. Although the same core characters do appear through the whole novel in each of the five independent parts different characters and twists are incorporated to form an intriguing though completely circular tale.

Not content with pulling off such a masterpiece of plot construction Hill gives dual meaning to the book’s title by employing the psychiatric meaning of the word fugue as well. It could be argued there is more than one character who experiences a ‘dreamlike state of altered consciousness’ in this story where one of the strongest themes explored is whether or not a person can ever really escape their past.

As always the characterisations are strong, particularly of the long-running characters that must feel a little like family to Hill by now. Fat Andy is still, at his core, the same bloke but his uncertainty about himself adds an interesting element to the book and is very credibly depicted. When his actions bring about an injury to one of his squad both his sense of guilt and his overwhelming need to hide that from the rest if his squad are palpable. Over the past couple of books Hill has made subtle changes to the relationship between Dalziel and his offsider Peter Pascoe and here both men are more evidently coming to terms with the fact that the balance of power in their relationship is in flux. We see lots of explorations of romantic and familial relationships in fiction but it is actually quite rare to see such a considered portrayal of a working relationship, particularly between two men, and it is one of the things I really enjoyed about this book. I think some of the criminal characters were a little flat but I suspect that’s at least partly because it’s hard for anyone to compete with people as fully realised as Dalziel and Pascoe.

I’ve read less than half of the two dozen books in this series but A Cure For All Diseases was one of my favourite books of last year and that made me curious to read this next installment. For me Midnight Fugue, although a very different book from its predecessor, was darned close to being just as good but it must be a tough decision for an author to keep experimenting at the risk of alienating die-hard fans. At least one of those admitted to being a little disappointed with this book partly because it dared to depict some fallibility in the formerly unstoppable Andy Dalziel, and there’s the rub for writers like Hill. Can you write to keep the fans happy and to attract new audiences or do you have to choose? I’m not sure of the answer to that question but I admire the way Hill has resisted the temptation to write the same book over and over.

Once again listening to Jonathan Keeble’s excellent narration of a Dalziel and Pascoe novel was a joy. Both he and Hill seem to have fun with this complicated, contemporary tale and its larger than life characters and their enjoyment was infectious. This novel is an absolute treat.

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My rating 4.5/5

Narrator:Jonathan Keeble; Publisher Whole Story Audio [this edition 2010, originally 2009]; ISBNN/A (download); Length 10 hours 21 minutes

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Midnight Fugue has been reviewed at Crime Scraps, Euro Crime (by Mike), Mysteries in Paradise and Mystery Mile (Nick is the fan I mentioned above who knows Hill’s experimentations are the right thing to do but who can’t help that they leave him a little shaken)