Reginald Hill “raised the classical British mystery to new heights” when he introduced pugnacious Yorkshire Det. Inspector Andrew Dalziel and his partner, the callow Sgt. Peter Pascoe (The New York Times Book Review). Their chafing differences in education, manners, technique, and temperament made them “the most remarkable duo in the annals of crime fiction” (Toronto Star). Adapted into a long-running hit show for the BBC, the Gold Dagger Award–winning series is now available as ebooks.
It’s the Day of Reckoning in the village of Enscombe, a two-day celebration among locals to feast and to pay old debts. When Enscombe’s constable vanishes, it’s time for Dalziel and Pascoe to upend the party. At first they’re confronted with what appear to be only niggling hiccups in the enclave: break-ins, a vicar with a lustful bent, and family feuds. But as Enscombe’s past comes into focus, the investigators begin to see a bigger crack in the picture-perfect village. Now, in this season when misdeeds must not go unpunished, reckoning will indeed be paid. And it may already be too late for Dalziel and Pascoe to change the course of local history.
Pictures of Perfection is the 15th book in the Dalziel and Pascoe Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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'How horrible it is to have so many people killed! — And what a blessing one cares for none of them!'
It is the Day of Reckoning.
The sun is shining. The inhabitants of Enscombe will tell you the sun always shines on Reckoning Day, meaning it hasn't rained much above a dozen times in the last twenty years. But this year they are right. After a week in which March seemed always looking back to January, suddenly it has leapt forward into May, and even in the shade, the air hangs warm and scented with blossom.
The village lies still as a painting, an English watercolour over which the artist has laboured with furious concentration to fix forever one perfect moment. What problems it must have posed! How to capture the almost black shadows which the sun, just past its zenith, lays on the left-hand side of the High Street, without giving a false Mediterranean brightness to the buildings opposite? And then the problem of perspective, with the road rising gently from the Morris Men's Rest at the southern end of the village, widening a little beyond the Post Office to admit the cobbled forecourts of the sunbright bookshop and café opposite the shadow-dark gallery, then steepening suddenly into a breathless hill as it climbs alongside the high churchyard wall over which headstones peep as though eager to see how the living are doing in these hard times. Nor is the curiously slouching tower of the church easy to capture accurately without making the artist look merely incompetent! And that distant pennant of kingfisher blue which is all that is visible of Old Hall above the trees beyond the church, were it not better with an artist's licence to ignore it as a distraction from the horizon of brooding moorland which is the picture's natural frame?
But it is that blue pennant which explains the village's stillness, for it betokens that the Squire is hosting his Reckoning Feast. And, more important still, for any daubster can paint a house but only the true artist can hint the life within, the pennant signals that behind this picture of still beauty there is warm pulsating humanity always threatening to burst through.
Now there is movement and the picture starts to dissolve. A woman comes hurrying down the shady side of the street. Her name is Elsie Toke. She is a slight, rather fey-looking woman in her forties, though her face is curiously unmarked by age. But it is marked now by anxiety as she looks to the left and right as though searching for someone. She catches a movement ahead of her on the sunny side of the street. A figure has emerged into the light, not very sensibly dressed for this place and this weather in combat fatigues with a black woollen balaclava pulled over his head so that only the eyes are visible. And crooked in his right arm he has a heavy short-barrelled gun.
He has not seen the woman yet. His mind seems boiling like the sun with more impressions and ideas than it can safely hold, a maelstrom of energy close to critical mass. He recalls reading somewhere of those old Nordic warriors who at times of great crisis ran amok. Berserkers they called them, responding to some imperative of violence which put them in touch with the violence which lies behind all of nature. He had found the idea appealing. When all else fails, when the subtlest of defence strategies prove futile, then throw caution to the winds, go out, attack, destroy, die!
The woman calls, 'Jason!'
He becomes aware of her for the first time. She is hurrying towards him, relief smudging the worry from her face. He registers who she is but it means nothing. To a berserker, all flesh is grass, waiting to be mown down. If any thought does cross his mind it is that he has to start somewhere. He shifts the gun from the crook of his arm to rest the stock on his hip. The expression on her face is changing now. She opens her mouth to speak again, but before the words can emerge, he fires. She takes the shot full in the chest. She doesn't scream but looks down in disbelief as the red stain blossoms and the sour wine smell of blood rises to her nostrils.
The berserker is already moving on. There are other figures in the long High Street now and his mind is reeling with delight at the prospect of conjuring fear into familiar faces as they admit the unbelievable.
Here comes Thomas Wapshare, eyes bright with curiosity, chubby cheeks aglow, mouth already curving into his jovial landlord's smile, and curiously the smile still remaining even as the eyes at last grasp what is happening, even as the muzzle comes up and at short range blasts him in that oh so comfortable gut.
And there across the street unlocking the Post Office door is Dudley Wylmot, a thin, gangling man with a weak chin and a spiky moustache under a rather large nose which gives him the air of a self-important rabbit. There is certainly something of the rabbit in him now as he turns with his key in the door and becomes aware of the gun barrel pointing straight at him. The berserker waits just long enough for Wylmot to register fully what is happening then he fires. The shot takes him in the neck, and he spins round, slamming against the blood-spattered door.
Now the berserker moves faster. Up ahead he has seen Caddy Scudamore opening the door of the Eendale Gallery. Luscious, gorgeous, infinitely desirable Caddy who looks at you as if you aren't there unless she takes a fancy to paint you. Shared, her indifference is bearable. But what right has she to select one out of the mass? She has the door open. She steps inside. He blasts her right between the shoulder-blades, smiling beneath his balaclava to see the fresh red blood blot out all the other colours on her paint-stained smock.
The voice comes from behind him. He turns. In the doorway of the Tell-Tale Bookshop stands the distinguished grey-haired patrician figure of Edwin Digweed. He must have seen the attack on Caddy through his window. A wise man would have dived behind his bookshelves! He snaps off a shot without conscious aim and feels a surge of superhuman power as the bookseller grabs for his stomach and feels the sticky blood oozing through his fingers.
Out of sheer exuberance the berserker lets one off at the window of the empty Wayside Café, then holding his weapon at the high port begins to jog up the hill past the churchyard.
He is slowing down by the time he reaches the War Memorial set in a nook of the wall, so he takes a breather and gives the bronze soldier, who has been gazing nobly into space for more than seventy years, a reminder of what it was all about.
The driver of an open-topped cabriolet in a striking shade of metallic aubergine slows almost to a halt as he observes the berserker's assault on the memorial. His name is Justin Halavant and he has a slightly off-key sense of humour which inspires him to call, 'I say: has war been declared on all statuary or just the military genre?'
He realizes his mistake at once. Startled, the berserker swings round and pumps off two rapid shots. The first hits the car door, but the second hits Halavant high on the side of his head, his muscles spasm, his foot rams down on the accelerator, and the car goes screaming down the hill into the village.
Not waiting to see what becomes of it, the berserker jogs up the hill and turns into the churchyard.
Here he pauses, leaning against a headstone, to check his ammunition. He is tempted to do a bit of damage to the church but ammo is running low and instinct urges him on to surprise the great bulk of villagers still at the Reckoning Feast before rumour of his activities reaches them from the village. But he does waste a shot at the Guillemard coat of arms above the arched gateway which leads from the churchyard into Green Alley and the Old Hall estate.
Now the climax is close, which is just as well since the energy which not long before had seemed set to last him for ever is now fading fast and the weapon which had seemed like a willow wand in his hands pulls at his muscles like a pig of iron.
Out of the corner of his eye he glimpses a figure and instinctively he pumps a shot at it before he realizes it is only a marble faun leering over a low stone bench. His snap shot hits home and as he watches, the leering head slowly topples off.
Now he is close enough to the Reckoning to hear its noise. Not the usual hubbub of vacuous gossip and the chomping of greedy teeth. No, now it is the throb of a passionate 'cello and an old but still piercing voice raised in rhythmic incantation.
'Who has not seen in windy March Flocks fleeing through the fields,
Neath arching ash and leaning larch,
With Winter on their heels,
His breath with strength to drench or parch,
More fierce because it fails?'
It is the Squire inflicting his ballad on the captive audience. It occurs to the berserker, across whose dark and stormy mind an occasional shaft of rationality shoots, that some of the listeners might, to start with, regard his interruption as a blessed relief.
But not for long.
He comes into the seated villagers from behind. He reckons he can only spare two or three shots for this lot. There's old Ma Pottinger, always droning on about that precious school of hers. She glances his way, opens her mouth to utter the sonorous admonition which is her trademark, but it turns into a piercing shriek as he drills one into her ample bosom.
People turn to look. The Squire carries on chanting.
'So fled the Gaels from Guillemard As he came galloping on,
More fearsome than the pouncing pard In leafy Lebanon And yet his life-blood spouted hard Beneath his habergeon.'
But the 'cellist sighs to a halt as the berserker advances like Moses through the Red Sea, apt image as he paints with blood to left and right, catching Daphne Wylmot high on her golden head and knocking old Mr Hogbin clean out of his Zimmer frame.
In the front row they rise as if to greet him, and he gives each in turn the greeting they deserve.
There's Larry Lillingstone, the young vicar — here's something for your sermon! Whoops. Kee Scudamore, either deliberately or trying to escape, has got in the way. Not to worry, here's one in the cassock for you, Vicar, anyway. And who have we here? Farmer George Creed and his so holy sister whose pies are a lot tastier than her piety — there's for you! And bossy Girlie Guillemard comes next, her teeth biting clean through the stem of her pipe as her belly blossoms redly. And now the smell of blood is hot in the evening air, and hotter still in the berserker's mind as he leaps on to the table in full and ineffable fury. At point-blank range he pumps a shot into little Fran Harding's 'cello which she is vainly trying to shelter behind. Then he turns to the Squire. Their eyes meet. 'Here's one for your ballad, Squire,' says the berserker. And laughs as the force of the shot drives the old man's script back into his chest, where it hangs redly, like a proclamation on a blasted tree.
Now the berserker turns to face the crowd. Or rabble rather, for they are all in retreat. Except for three. The Holy Trinity! The Three Stooges! The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
He can't remember their names. Doesn't matter. You don't give pigs names, not when you're planning to kill them.
They are moving slowly towards him. He glances down and regrets the shots wasted at non-human targets, for he sees he has only one shot left.
Not to worry. One's enough to make a point.
But which one?
The Good? The Bad? Or the Ugly?
He makes his decision.
He raises his gun.
And he fires.CHAPTER 2
'I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.'
Two days before the events just described, late on a cold March afternoon buffed bright by a skittish east wind, Enscombe's peace had been less dramatically shattered by the arrival of three motorbikes and a long-base Land Rover.
The Land Rover had the words GUNG HO! stencilled on its sides in scarlet with, above them, the image of a swooping bird of prey. The same logos appeared on the white helmets and pale blue leathers of the riders and passengers of the first two motorbikes. These were Harley Davidson Fatboys, and they and the Land Rover bumped up the cobbles of the narrow forecourt of the Wayside Café and came to a halt with a deal of exuberant revving.
The third solitary rider brought his old Triumph Thunderbird to a more decorous halt in front of the neighbouring Tell-Tale Bookshop (Rare & Antiquarian: Prop. E. Digweed, D.Litt.). His helmet and leathers were a dull black, unrelieved except by a star of silver studs at the breast.
The first Harley Davidson team had removed their helmets to reveal a shag of black hair, male, and a shoal of herring-bright ringlets, female, which its owner shook down over her shoulders as she stretched her arms and said, 'Unzip me, darling. I'm dying for a pee.'
At this point the door of the café opened to reveal a statuesquely handsome woman in a blue chequered apron. She looked the new arrivals up and down and said, 'No hippies. No bikers. In the Name of the Lord.'
The ringleted rider shrieked an incredulous laugh, and her companion said, 'What's the Lord got against bikers, then?'
'God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions,' replied the woman in a perfectly matter-of-fact voice.
The second passenger had removed her helmet to reveal a Nefertiti skull whose close-napped hair was, aptly, a billiard-table green. She lit a cigarette and said, 'Jesus Christ!' The café owner gave an outraged snort and took a step forward to put baize-head within reach of either the Third Commandment or a left hook, but before this could be made clear, the fourth biker, who'd been conferring with three young men climbing out of the Land Rover, whipped off his helmet with a flourish and said, 'Dora, my sweet, it is I, Guy. And I have brought these good people to a halt within sight almost of our destination with the promise that here they would get the best apple pie this side of Paradise.'
He was in his late twenties, with curly brown hair, eyes that twinkled at will and a charming smile that couldn't quite conceal its complacent certainty of success. His voice was vibrant with sincerity and those reverse-Pygmalion vowels which old Etonians imagine improve their street cred. He advanced as though to embrace the café owner, but she folded her arms in a counterscarp which repulsed familiarity and said, 'I'm sorry, Master Guy. It's got to be the same rule for all, else the law is mocked.'
For a second the biker's charm looked ready to dissolve into petulance, but reason prevailed and he said, 'All right, Dora, our loss is your loss. Come on, boys and girls. The good news is the Hall's only a minute away. The bad news is, you're going to have to make do with Cousin Girlie's marble cake, which does not belie its name. Ciao, Dorissima! Avanti!'
The male trio got back into the Land Rover, the mixed quartet replaced their neuterizing helmets, while the solitary rider who had been observing the incident with quiet interest removed his. Behind him and to his left a nasally upper-class kind of voice said, 'I say. You. Fellow.'
Slowly he turned his head which had all the unlikely rugosities of a purpose- built Gothic ruin.
In the doorway of the bookshop stood a tall slim man with an aristocratically aquiline face under a thatch of silver hair with matching eyebrows that shot up in surprise as he got the full-frontal view, then lowered to echo the sardonic twist of his lips as he said, 'You are, I hazard, not a customer?'
'Not for books, if that's what you mean,' said the biker politely. 'It were more a cup of tea ...'
'I thought not,' interrupted the bookseller. 'Lacking as you clearly do those basic skills of literacy which would have enabled you to read the sign.'
The sign he was pointing at was fixed to the wall beneath the window. In a diminutive version of the elegant cursive script used for the shop name above, it read CUSTOMER PARKING ONLY.
It would have been possible to argue that where the message is monitory, the medium should place clarity above aesthetics. But all the biker said was, 'Yes, well, I would have parked in front of the café, only there wasn't room ...'
'Indeed? I suppose by the same token, if the café were closed, you would expect high tea to be served in my flat? Besides, there seems to be a plenitude of room now ...'
It was true. The rejected convoy was moving off in an accelerando of engines and a brume of fume.
'Sorry,' said the biker, wheeling his bike the few feet necessary to take him from one forecourt to the next.
The aproned chatelaine remained in place.
'Your friends have gone to the Hall, God preserve them,' she said.
'Amen, but I'm not with them,' said the solitary.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pictures of Perfection"
Copyright © 1994 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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