The Woodcutter

The Woodcutter

3.5 16
by Reginald Hill

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Wolf Hadda’s life has been a fairy tale. From his humble origins as a Cumbrian woodcutter’s son, he has risen to become a hugely successful entrepreneur, happily married to the woman of his dreams.

A knock on the door one morning ends it all. Universally reviled, thrown into prison while protesting his innocence, abandoned by friends and family,

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Wolf Hadda’s life has been a fairy tale. From his humble origins as a Cumbrian woodcutter’s son, he has risen to become a hugely successful entrepreneur, happily married to the woman of his dreams.

A knock on the door one morning ends it all. Universally reviled, thrown into prison while protesting his innocence, abandoned by friends and family, Wolf retreats into silence. Seven years later, prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo makes a breakthrough. Wolf begins to talk, and under her guidance he is paroled, returning to his family home in rural Cumbria.

But there was a mysterious period in Wolf’s youth when he disappeared from home and was known to his employers as the Woodcutter. And now the Woodcutter is back, looking for the truth—and revenge. Can Alva intervene before his pursuit of vengeance takes him to a place from which he can never come back?

The Woodcutter is a treat that both lovers of the Dalziel and Pascoe series and newcomers to the always masterful work of Reginald Hill will devour.

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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
Those blood-lusty Jacobean dramatists could have picked up a few pointers about betrayal and revenge from Reginald Hill, who turns a contemporary crime of greed into a timeless morality tale in The Woodcutter.
—The New York Times
“[A] tour de force.”
New York Times Book Review
“Reginald Hill…turns a contemporary crime of greed into a timeless morality tale….Hill’s storytelling is its own delight, a fun house of shifting timelines and multiple perspectives.”
Wall Street Journal
“Evokes the spirit of storytellers from Dumas and Dickens to Jeffery Deaver and Jeffrey Archer.”
Library Journal
A Cumbrian woodcutter's son, Wolf Hadda is now a high-profile entrepreneur with a beloved wife in the bargain. Then he's thrown into jail for charges he denies and is abandoned by everyone. When he returns home seven years later, he's in the mood for revenge. A Cartier Diamond Dagger award winner noted for his popular Dalziel & Pascoe series, Hill here offers a stand-alone. Of interest to the thriller set; with a 25,000-copy first printing.
The Times (London)
“An outstanding novel of force and beauty.”
Keighley News (England)
“His storytelling is always bewitching, his turns of phrase wonderful. . . . The Woodcutter is as much literary as crime novel, but always a page turner.”
Financial Times
“He’s lost none of his sardonic wit, punch and complexity… The result is an epic, unbeatable mystery.”
Literary Review
“Reginald Hill’s books are as good as crime fiction gets and this one is as good as he gets.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“Hill’s plotting…is brilliant, the jokes first-rate, the prose supple: it’s his humble awe at the power of the English language that enables him to be a minor master of it.”
The Age (Melbourne)
“A consummate yarn spinner, Hill draws on myth and metaphor to embroider this tightly crafted tale.”
Herald Sun (Australia)
“Another gem from the creator of Dalziel and Pascoe. Rich characterisation, sparkling dialogue and wry humour flavour the text. . . . Verdict: exquisite”
The Evening Standard (London)
“There is something of the fairytale about The Woodcutter, a big, fat mystery which has the enduring power of a myth. . . . The heights of the Dalziel & Pascoe series aside, Hill has never written a better book.”
New York Times Book Review on The Woodcutter
“Reginald Hill…turns a contemporary crime of greed into a timeless morality tale….Hill’s storytelling is its own delight, a fun house of shifting timelines and multiple perspectives.”
Wall Street Journal on The Woodcutter
“Evokes the spirit of storytellers from Dumas and Dickens to Jeffery Deaver and Jeffrey Archer.”
People magazine on The Woodcutter
“[A] tour de force.”
Kirkus Reviews

A grim-dandy psychological thriller about betrayal and revenge set in England.

Sir Wilfred Hadda has risen far from his humble days as a woodcutter's son. Nicknamed both Wilf and Wolf, it's the latter that follows him throughout the story. He's handsome, rich, well-connected and married to a gorgeous upper-class woman. What more could a man want? Oh wait, there's someone at the door. The authorities arrive with a warrant, something about fraud and child pornography. In a panic at the false accusations, Wolf foolishly bolts into London traffic, with macabre consequences that are not for the squeamish reader. As an accused and apparently proven child molester, the tabloids crucify and the court convicts him. His trusted friend/lawyer abandons him, his wife divorces him, his business goes belly-up and he lands in prison. Only his physical toughness protects him from his pedophile-loathing fellow convicts. He simply cannot sink lower. The Swedish-Nigerian psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo (a beautiful woman, of course) tries to persuade him to face up to his obvious guilt. He vehemently protests his innocence, though admitting guilt may shorten his sentence. Years later he is released, but he is a pariah in the Cumbrian village where he was raised and chooses to return. He just wants to become a simple woodcutter, though he has questions for which he hires a private investigator. The answers may take a while, the P.I. tells him; what will you be doing in the meantime? "Sharpening my axe," Wolf replies. Clearly, he had been set up. But by whom, and why? And what will he do about it? Doctor Ozigbo plays an intriguing secondary role as Wolf navigates the many dangerous twists and untangles the deceit that dates back for a generation.

Near the end, a character refers to the fate of "the dreadful, drab English." There's nothing drab about this dark and compelling novel,although some of its characters are dreadful human beings.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt


Once upon a time I was living happily ever after.
That’s right. Like in a fairy tale.
How else to describe my life up till that bright autumn morning back in 2008?
I was the lowly woodcutter who fell in love with a beautiful princess glimpsed dancing on the castle lawn, knew she was so far above him that even his fantasies could get his head chopped off, nonetheless when three seemingly impossible tasks were set as the price of her hand in marriage threw his cap into the ring and after many perilous adventures returned triumphant to claim his heart’s desire.
Here began the happily ever after, the precise extent of which is nowhere defined in fairy literature. In my case it lasted fourteen years.
During this time I acquired a fortune of several millions, a private jet, residences in Holland Park, Devon, New York, Barbados and Umbria, my lovely daughter, Ginny, and a knighthood for services to commerce.
Over the same period my wife Imogen turned from a fragrant young princess into an elegant, sophisticated woman. She ran our social life with easy efficiency, made no demands on me that I could not afford, and always had an appropriate welcome waiting in whichever of our homes I returned to after my often extensive business trips.
Sometimes I looked at her and found it hard to understand how I could deserve such beauty, such happiness. She was my piece of perfection, my heart’s desire, and whenever the stresses and strains of my hugely active life began to make themselves felt, I just had to think of my princess to know that, whatever fate brought me, I was the most blessed of men.
Then on that autumn day – by one of those coincidences that only a wicked fairy can contrive, our wedding anniversary – everything changed.
At half past six in the morning we were woken in our Holland Park house by an extended ringing of the doorbell. I got up and went to the window. My first thought when I saw the police uniforms was that some joker had sent us an anniversary stripaubade. But they didn’t look as if they were about to rip off their uniforms and burst into song, and suddenly my heart contracted at the thought that something could have happened to Ginny. She was away at school – not by my choice, but when the lowly woodcutter marries the princess, there are some ancestral customs he meekly goes along with.
Then it occurred to me they’d hardly need a whole posse of plods to convey such a message.
Nor would they bring a bunch of press photographers and a TV crew.
Imogen was sitting up in bed by this time. Even in these fraught circumstances I was distracted by sight of her perfect breasts.
She said, ‘Wolf, what is it?’ in her usual calm manner.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’ll go and see.’
She said, ‘Perhaps you should put some clothes on.’
I grabbed my dressing gown and was still pulling it round my shoulders as I started down the stairs. I could hear voices below. Among them I recognized the Cockney accent of Mrs Roper, our housekeeper. She was crying out in protest and I saw why as I reached the half landing. She must have opened the front door and policemen were thrusting past her without ceremony. Jogging up the stairs towards me was a short fleshy man in a creased blue suit flanked by two uniformed constables.
He came to a halt a couple of steps below me and said breathlessly, ‘Wolf Hadda? Sorry. Sir Wilfred Hadda. Detective Inspector Medler. I have a warrant to search these premises.’
He reached up to hand me a sheet of paper. Below I could hear people moving, doors opening and shutting, Mrs Roper still protesting.
I said, ‘What the hell’s going on?’
His gaze went down to my crotch. His lips twitched. Then his eyes ran up my body and focused beyond me.
He said, ‘Maybe you should make yourself decent, unless you fancy posing for Page Three.’
I turned to see what he was looking at. Through the half-landing window overlooking the garden, I could see the old rowan tree I’d transplanted from Cumbria when I bought the house. It was incandescent with berries at this time of year, and I was incandescent with rage at the sight of a paparazzo clinging to its branches, pointing a camera at me. Even at this distance I could see the damage caused by his ascent.
I turned back to Medler.
‘How did he get there? What are the press doing here anyway? Did you bring them?’
‘Now why on earth should I do that, sir?’ he said. ‘Maybe they just happened to be passing.’
He didn’t even bother to try to sound convincing.
He had an insinuating voice and one of those mouths which looks as if it’s holding back a knowing sneer. I’ve always had a short fuse. At six thirty in the morning, confronted by a bunch of heavy-handed plods tearing my home to pieces and a paparazzo desecrating my lovely rowan, it was very short indeed. I punched the little bastard right in his smug mouth and he went backwards down the stairs, taking one of his constables with him. The other produced his baton and whacked me on the leg. The pain was excruciating and I collapsed in a heap on the landing.
After that things got confused. As I was half dragged, half carried out of the house, I screamed at Imogen, who’d appeared fully dressed on the stairs, ‘Ring Toby!’
She looked very calm, very much in control. Princesses don’t panic. The thought was a comfort to me.
Cameras clicked and journalists yelled inanities as I was thrust into a car. As it sped away, I twisted round to look back. Cops were already coming down the steps carrying loaded bin bags that they tossed into the back of a van. The house, gleaming in the morning sunlight, seemed to look down on them with disdain. Then we turned a corner and it vanished from sight.
I did not realize – how could I? – that I was never to enter it again.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Reginald Hill is a native of Cumbria and a former resident of Yorkshire, the setting for his novels featuring Superintendent Dalziel and DCI Pascoe. Their appearances have won him numerous awards, including a CWA Gold Dagger and the Car-tier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award. The Dalziel and Pascoe stories have also been adapted into a hugely popular BBC TV series.

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The Woodcutter 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
graciegirlFL More than 1 year ago
This book will be one of my favorites from Reginald Hill. It pulled me in from the beginning, and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. I love Hill's humor and many classical references. He never insults the intelligence of his readers. When I read of his recent death, I felt as though I'd lost a good friend.
advisorPL More than 1 year ago
A very tight, well written book. A distinct pleasure to resd. Not the norm these days when compared to best sellers from authors who use formulas to produce one "masterpiece" after the other. Hill's creativity and originality is very much appreciated!
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Cumbrian woodcutter's son Wolf Hadda married his childhood sweetheart Imo though she is of noble blood. He became a successful businessman as he, his wife and their daughter live in affluence. However, their idyllic perfect life ends when police arrest him for financial fraud and child porn. He is sent to a maximum security prison while his spouse divorces him and marries his lawyer. However, the straw that broke the stoic Hadda is the death of his teenage child. Hadda becomes mute refusing to speak with anyone. Several years into his enforced silence and insistence of innocence, prison psychiatrist Dr. Alva Ozigbo finally reaches past his The Man In The Iron Mask facade. Remorseful he admits his guilt, which leads to his parole. Hadda returns to Cumbria seeking solace and answers to what happened several years ago just prior to that knock on his door by the cops. This is a superb psychological suspense that provides Hadda's present and back story in smooth transitions. Hadda and to a lesser degree Alva holds the intriguing plot together as the audience will wonder about the fall from grace of the businessman that turned him stoically silent. With a major twist providing the why, fans will relish The Woodcutter as one of the year's best character driven thrillers. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The initial chapters are promising, but spots in the book are too slow and the last quarter has too many unbelievable twists and coincidences. Entertains, good character development and sense of setting, but not brilliant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very interesting, non series novel
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although edgier than Dalziel and Pascoe the characters are, as usual, many layered as is the plot.
BookSakeBlogspot More than 1 year ago
The Woodcutter is the most tedious book I've ever read (okay, maybe not, but it's up there). The perspective shifts from person to person and I had to reread large sections of the book to get a grasp on what was actually happening - is this a flashback, a new development in the plot, or the back of my eyelids? I was also not impressed with the plausibility of certain relationships in the book, not because I cared about the likelihood of these particular people hooking up, but because I couldn't care less about the characters in general. The author never really grabbed my attention and the 500+ pages were torturous bits of often irrelevant dialogue and mind-numbing storyline. I would recommend this book to people whose company I don't enjoy all that much. Reviewed by Brittany for Book Sake.