‘Clever fellow, our Patrick. Very clever.’
‘Sir,’ said Pascoe determinedly. ‘Do you still suspect him of something?’
‘Me? No. Why should I? A lot of people have died, it’s true. But there’s always people dying, isn’t there? And we’ve no bodies, have we? That’s what we’re short of Peter. Bodies.’
Accountant Patrick Aldermann is a gifted horticulturalist obsessed with the cultivation of roses. His life has had a convenient way of allowing him to spend more time growing them – inheriting a fine old house with an establish rose-garden, marrying a wealthy cleric’s daughter just as her father dies, getting promotions at work which allow him to pay for his hobby. But is all this coincidence, or is Patrick actually a mild-mannered serial killer?
His boss, wealthy industrialist ‘Dandy Dick’ Elgood suspects something, and reports the matter to the police. But does the flamboyant Elgood actually believe his accusations, or is he simply trying to remove an inconvenient pawn in an ongoing boardroom struggle?
The battle was about Aldermann’s candidacy for the Board, but the war was about Elgood’s chairmanship.
With no evidence but a lot of suspicion, Inspector Peter Pascoe and Sergeant Wield dig deeper and deeper into Aldermann’s past for clues. But he is either entirely innocent or extremely lucky, as nothing definite turns up.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dalziel and Pascoe, the set-up is that Andy Dalziel is a coarse foul-mouthed and willfully ignorant old-school copper who nonetheless has a sharp mind and a heart of gold. Pascoe is a left-leaning ambitious university graduate who grudgingly respects Dalziel whilst deploring his manners. Pascoe’s politically active wife Ellie almost always features in the novels, and there are other regulars such as the closeted (at this point in the series) gay Sergeant Wield.
The series characters, and their stark political and social differences, allowed Hill to explore different aspects of Yorkshire life. In Dead Heads a new recruit, Shaheed ‘Shady’ Singh, gives an insight into institutional racism in the police force.
He had quickly realised that references to his background from superior officers had to be borne if he was to survive. Complaint within the Force, and even more so outside it, would make his position intolerable. Racial cracks from fellow cadets and lowly constables did not have to accepted quite so stoically, however. He had a ready wit and a sharp tongue of his own.
Singh is also used to chart the journey from man to policeman when he is faced with some tough decisions about some unruly former school friends.
It would be great to make his first nick, but it would be an agony he wasn’t yet prepared for to make it as the expense of Jonty and Mick. Why was he doing this anyway? It wasn’t as if the vandalism had been the crime of the century!
More socio-political insight and tough personal choices come through the developing friendship between Ellie Pascoe and Aldermann’s wife Daphne. One a true-blue traditionalist, the other a bit of a firebrand, but both from very similar backgrounds. But when Ellie has information which could help her husband’s investigation, should she tell him or not? And should she warn her friend that her husband is being investigated?
Two tall women, one dark, one fair, in a state of friendship which they both knew might well turn out also to be a state of truce.
Meanwhile, Andy Dalziel is on fine form out of his element at a conference on community policing in mixed societies in London.
Insubordinate, disruptive, inattentive and absent were the principal epithets used.
So, lots going on in Dead Heads apart from the investigation. I’ve only dipped in and out of the series, but this works perfectly well as a standalone novel. I was caught out by the zigzag ending.
First published in the UK by HarperCollinsPublishers, 1983
This edition, Kindle version
Final destination: A keeper
Kirkus: With a nice, low-key fadeout and a botanical motif throughout: sly, tart British crime-entertainment–uncompelling, a bit overextended, but drily engaging.