cover image Singing the Sadness

Singing the Sadness

Reginald Hill. St. Martin's Press, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-24238-1

Hill could not have created a protagonist more different from his gruff, hard-drinking, profane Andy Dalziel than Joe Sixsmith, the hero of his second series of mysteries (Killing the Lawyers, etc.). A PI without the large body and presence of Dalziel, Sixsmith is ""five foot five, [with] a sagging waist and social invisibility except maybe in a convention of white supremacists."" Sixsmith is black. That does make him a standout figure when he leaves Luton, England, to journey with the Boyling Corner Chapel choir to Wales for the remote and unheralded Llanffugiol Choral Festival. But Joe's usual self-effacement is ruined when he rescues a nude woman from a burning cottage in the countryside. Thrust out of the choral competition by the injuries he receives in the fire, Joe is driven into a far deadlier competition. Who is the woman he rescued, and how did she come to be in the supposedly unoccupied cottage? Joe is hired by the owner of the cottage to find the answers; and he secretly gets a second retainer from the man's wife, who suspects the woman from the fire is her husband's mistress. Joe's adventures and misadventures among the provincial Welsh folk and their more sophisticated police officers and academics are absorbing and dangerous. Sixsmith's fourth outing lacks the brilliant byplay that distinguishes the Dalziel/Pascoe novels, but the characterizations remain sharp. And Hill's swift pacing and keen dialogue make his modest, intelligent hero a winner in this intriguing tale of the seedy side of small-town life. (Sept.)