The English language is a funny old thing isn't it? It's gone through life picking up bits of pieces from other languages and appropriating them for its own use. Some of the meanings that have been attached to these new words might leave those who originally spoke the language it came from shaking their heads, but it has also allowed for an incredible amount of flexibility when it comes to word meaning. Look through the dictionary and you'll be amazed at how many words have two, if not more, either meanings, or ways they can be employed which changes their meaning.
Any writer worth his or her salt is going to learn how to take advantage of this as soon as possible, and not just for the opportunities it allows for one to make rally bad puns. Using a word with multiple meanings allows authors to suggest two thoughts at once to their readers making it harder to predict just what will happen as they continue to read. For somebody writing a mystery or a thriller you can see how attractive that would be. Having your reader's thoughts running in a couple of directions at once will keep them on their toes even more than usual if you know what you're doing.
Anyone who has enjoyed the work of Reginald Hill over the last number of years, and more specifically his novels featuring Chief Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Peter Pascoe, have come to appreciate the joy he receives from playing with the English language. In his newest release, Midnight Fuguepublished on November 24th/09 by Random House Canada, he delivers the goods yet again with an intriguing mystery built around the meanings of fugue from the title.
Feeling himself fully recovered from his recent brush with mortality, (he was caught in a bomb explosion) Dalziel has returned to work assuming he can pick up right where he left off. Unfortunately, as anybody who has missed any amount of work could have told him, he discovers that in his absence not only hasn't the world ended because he wasn't there to keep it in one piece, his junior officers have begun to learn how to survive without him. Worse yet he begins to wonder if Pascoe's thought that he might have returned to work a little early might not be correct. For what else would explain him rushing out of the house on a Sunday morning to ensure he's not late for his Monday morning conference?
However this minor state of confusion turns out to be the least of Andy's problems on this Sunday morning. Gina Wolfe, the fiancee of an acquaintance from the London police force, comes to Andy with the story of trying to track down her police officer husband who had vanished seven years ago without a trace. She has just begun taking steps to have him declared legally dead when she receives in the mail a newspaper clipping of a photo showing her missing husband as part of a crowd.
Seven years earlier not only had Alex Wolfe come under suspicion of being in the pay of one time East End of London loan shark Goldie Gidman, but his and Gina's young daughter had died of leukaemia. Instead of being a comfort to his bereaved wife, Wolfe had seemed to shut down to the point of unresponsiveness, until she eventually left him. It was shortly after that he vanished so completely that he might as well have ceased to exist.
However it's not just Gina who has come looking for any sign of Alex. Goldie Gidman doesn't like loose ends floating around that can come back to haunt him or his family. Especially now when his son is considered a rising star in the Conservative party. In spite of not being a natural part of the Conservative constituency - Gidman senior is the son a black immigrant - Goldie had felt a definite kinship for the avarice and greed on display in that party under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Part of his effort to hide the past and make the transition to respectable pillar of the community had been the making of large regular contributions to the party coffers for decades. How would it look now if it came to light that he had paid members of London's finest to keep him abreast of the a major investigation into his affairs? Even worse would be information about his days of using a hammer to break fingers as gentle reminders of overdue loans coming to light. They would be sure to cast a pall on his son's chances of political success.
However Goldie's cleaning crew, the brother and sister team of Fleur and Vince, who are dispatched to look into the potential of Wolfe talking, aren't as up to the task as they once might have been, what with Fleur preoccupied with her pending death from a brain tumour and her need to get her idiot brother out of harms way before she dies. It seems like no one, from the villains to the missing person, are operating at quite a hundred per cent capacity. For the first time in his life Andy Dalziel is actually slowed by self doubts, which are only heightened by the sense of self-recrimination he feels when a junior officer he enlists to assist him unofficially is seriously hurt when she has a run in with Vince and Fleur.
In music a fugue is a composition where a melody is introduced in one part, and then successively taken up by others and developed by the interweaving of all the parts. Which is exactly what Hill has done with characters and plot lines instead of music so adroitly in his Midnight Fugue. Each new character introduced reveals a different facet of the overall theme, and as he gradually interweaves them the picture becomes clearer and carries the story to its conclusion.
The author who brings in multiple views of a single story risks leaving his readers scratching their heads in confusion. Hill is able to avoid this by not only making each of the perspectives offered intriguing plot lines in their own right, but equally important, making sure they add to the theme by either revealing more information or posing questions that set us to pondering possible ways in which it could develop.
While some of the characters experience momentary lapses in their awareness of who they are and find themselves far afield from their usual territory - whether Andy Dalziel sitting in a cathedral contemplating his life or Alex Wolfe leading a new life far from London - or in a fugue state, there's never an occasion where the reader feels the same way. It's a pleasure to see how Hill incorporates the multiple meanings of the word fugue into the both the structure of the story and the plot without letting it interfere with the important business of writing an enjoyable mystery story.
Fans of Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, and the rest of Hill's ensemble of characters, will be delighted with how he has continued to develop their interrelationships. At the same time newcomers to Hill's work can take pleasure in reading an intriguing mystery filled with his trademark intelligence and sufficient dollops of gritty reality to keep it firmly in the realm of the believable. Further proof, if any were needed, that Hill is far more than just a mystery writer.
Originally posted November 2009)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.