Underworld Summary
by Reginald Hill

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Several years previous to the action of UNDERWORLD, a child molester/murderer named Pickford confessed to a series of crimes before committing suicide. Before Pickford’s confession, suspicion had fallen on Bill Farr, a respected former miner in the Yorkshire community of Burrthorpe, in the disappearance of little Tracey Pedley. Pickford never mentioned the child by name, however, and, for some people in Burrthorpe, Farr was still considered Tracey’s murderer. Farr subsequently fell down an abandoned mine shaft, taking his own life. Or did he?

Farr’s son Colin, returned from the merchant marine to take his father’s place in the mine, is often drunk and increasingly troublesome. He cannot believe that his father was responsible for Tracey’s death, yet doubts assail him. Ellie Pascoe, his teacher at the university extension course for miners and Inspector Peter Pascoe’s wife, would like to help. Colin, however, whose looks are as compelling as his hair-trigger temper, is suddenly becoming more than simply another student. Trouble boils over as a former Deputy Chief Constable sells his memoirs to a scandal sheet and Colin’s dead father is implicated anew. Dalziel and Pascoe find themselves searching for the truth while scrambling to maintain an uneasy peace in a community hostile to the police and intensely protective of its own. Then Colin’s worst enemy is found murdered, and all clues point to Colin.

UNDERWORLD is multilayered, with the personalities of its characters shaped by the mine’s dark pit, and with Colin’s wild swings of temper perfectly mirrored by the wild ride of the mine’s “Cage.” Ultimately, even Dalziel and Pascoe must go underground for their quarry. It is there, in near-total blackness, that they finally confront a terrible evil beneath an innocuous facade.

Hill has been hailed as too good to be simply called a mystery writer. Indeed, the complexity of his plotting and depth of his characterization must place him among the top authors in this genre. UNDERWORLD is a worthy entry in the outstanding Dalziel-Pascoe series.