On Beulah Height

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Fifteen years before the current action, the village of Dendale was flooded to create a reservoir, and three little girls from the neighborhood disappeared without a trace. Now a fourth girl has vanished from the area, and famous “fat man” detective Andrew Dalziel and his Chief Inspector Peter Pascoe must investigate not only the present disappearance but the past ones, which left the decimated village deeply traumatized.

A sad loner, Benny Lightfoot, had been suspected of the earlier murders but had disappeared too. Now someone has painted “Benny’s Back!” on the old railroad bridge, and all kinds of rumors abound. To complicate the issue, Pascoe’s daughter falls ill of a deadly disease and has visions of the child-stealer, and local soprano Elizabeth Wulfstan wants to make her translation of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (songs of dead children) the centerpiece of the annual music festival, despite the rekindled grief the performance would bring to the community.

As the investigation proceeds, present and past turn out to be inextricably linked. The duo finally turn up a complicated web of desire, grief, and revenge. The last scene brings all the threads together in a devastating finale.

Pascoe and Dalziel are a perfect duo, Pascoe’s sensitivity and education contrasting with Dalziel’s cynicism and apparent iron hide (which only occasionally reveals glimpses of the man beneath.) The fifteenth novel featuring Dalziel and Pascoe, ON BEULAH HEIGHT is unusually intense, blending myth and dream into the narrative of detection. Not for fans of “cozies,” this story has the depth and inevitability of tragedy, and is a worthy addition to the series.