cover image Arms and the Women

Arms and the Women

Reginald Hill. Delacorte Press, $23.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33279-8

Few mystery authors know better than the prolific Hill (Singing the Sadness, Forecasts, Aug. 23) how to keep the delicate engine of a high-quality series running. After successfully mining the past for his last two books about Yorkshire coppers Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe (The Wood Beyond and On Beulah Height), he now takes an entirely new direction--centering the series' action on Pascoe's wife, Ellie, and surrounding her with a captivating gallery of mostly female characters. The result is a delightfully quirky, literate, often explosively funny novel that actually extends the genre's range. Ellie Pascoe--former activist and deeply involved teacher, now recovering from the serious medical threat to her nine-year-old daughter, Rosie, that was detailed in On Beulah Height--is a ""pre-published"" novelist working on a book about Odysseus (who in Ellie's hands sounds a lot like a Greek version of Fat Andy Dalziel, complete with Yorkshire vernacular). When a slick couple show up in an expensive car, claiming to be from the local education authority and offering to give her a lift to the spot where a bus carrying Rosie has broken down, Ellie almost goes along--escaping an abduction attempt only because of the deeply implanted suspicions of a cop's wife. Pascoe, Dalziel, the wonderfully resourceful Sgt. Edgar Wield and the extremely sharp Constable Shirley Novello try to link the attempted snatch to some of Pascoe's past cases and enemies, especially to the gorgeous money launderer Kelly Cornelius. Hill soon lets us know better, however, introducing a shadowy figure who calls herself Sybil and a wheelchair-bound intelligence gatherer working for a high-ranking spook. And there's also the Colombian drug bandits and Irish arms-runners who somehow figure into the attack on Ellie--and then in the assault on Ellie's marvelously acid, deceptively stiff-upper-lipped neighbor Daphne. Also vital to the plot is Feenie Macallum, the aged but doggedly energetic daughter of a legendary arms merchant, whose crumbling seaside estate provides the locale for the novel's amazing finale--a rare, perfect blend of danger and hilarity. (Sept.)