QUITE simply, Reginald Hill is a mystery writer who also is a very good novelist. On this 20th anniversary of his series featuring the Yorkshire investigative team of Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) and Pascoe comes Bones and Silence (Delacorte, $17.95), which may be Hill's best work of all. But, then, you always feel that way when you are reading a Dalziel/Pascoe novel.
The series began in 1970 with the wittily titled A Clubbable Woman, and includes An Advancement of Learning, Ruling Passion, Deadheads and several others, all marked by well-designed plots and good writing, as well as an appealing blend of humor, philosophy and swift action.
With the dominance of British women writers in the mystery field, from the Christie-Sayers-Tey era to today's P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, Hill has not achieved the same public recognition as the queens of crime, at least in America. It is unfair discrimination.
In Bones and Silence, Hill once more uses the police procedural format to get at something deeper than the solution of a crime. While the police are going about their investigation, Hill is exploring human relationships and the social condition. All this, and still a brilliantly ingenious plot that keeps the pages turning.
Superintendent Dalziel, recovering from an orgy of food and drink, glances out his window one night, sees a nude woman silhouetted in a square of light, hears a shot, and rushes to a neighbor's house to find the woman lying on a bed, her head horribly mutilated by a gunshot wound. Two men are in the room. One, Philip Swain, a builder, says the gun went off as he tried to stop his wife from committing suicide. The other, Greg Waterson, admits to being the wife's lover.
Dalziel finds himself a witness whose testimony is viewed with skepticism -- even by Chief Inspector (newly promoted) Peter Pascoe, whose prickly relationship with his superior has moved to grudging respect and even affection over the years. Swain tells a smooth story -- but then Waterson disappears after signing a statement that backs up Swain's verson.
With Dalziel's attention focused on proving Swain a murderer, Pascoe finds himself taking over the anonymous letters addressed to Dalziel. They come from a woman whose New Year's resolution is to commit suicide within the next l2 months. Is the Dark Lady -- as Pascoe comes to call her -- challenging Dalziel to find her?
Then there is the staging of a cycle of medieval mystery plays, the inspiration of the dazzling Eileen Chung, the 6-foot-plus Eurasian who is the director of the local theater troupe. Chung, who is not to be denied, has cast Dalziel -- "Fat Andy" -- as God to Swain's Lucifer. Even Dalziel has to admit Swain has been brilliant in playing the role of the grieving husband.
And still the letters from the Dark Lady, with their grim humor and heartbreaking sense of emptiness, keep arriving.
The multi-layered plot is only one factor in the brilliance of Bones and Silence (the title is from Virginia Woolf). It is a mystery novel rich in characterization, psychological insight, ironic humor and literate, polished prose.
Hill can capture a moment, an emotion, or a character with the stroke of a few words: "Suddenly the woman smiled away a decade." Even his incidental characters breathe life and reach out to touch us -- the frequently-betrayed wife of Waterson, who stills feels his charm; the stocky, drab teen-aged mother, abandoned by her husband, who has fallen into a lethargy that hides her sparkle; her father, who didn't expect clear sailing for all his devotion to the Bible's teachings but also didn't expect everything to go wrong; the canon's wife, dominated to subservience, who finally shows a spark of independence.
And, of course, there are Dalziel and Pascoe. In some 10 books over two decades, Hill has followed their evolving relationship: Pascoe, liberal and university-trained; Fat Andy, outrageous, uncouth, bawdy, ruthless, yet an outstandingly good cop and a good friend.
Finally, the Dark Lady is revealed in a powerful, transfixing scene atop a temple as the wagons of the mystery-play pageant move slowly on the street below. Hill has strewn some subtle misdirections along the way. If he does withhold vital information until the end, he does not cheat, revealing it to the reader and Pascoe at the same time. Crazy in New York MUCH LIKE television's "Twin Peaks," Jerome Charyn's The Good Policeman (Mysterious Press, $18.95) must be experienced. No way you can summarize the plot or try to convey the flavor -- or the substance.
It is simply the latest mad, antic whirl of Isaac Sidel, Hebraic crime scholar and New York police commissioner. It's the police procedural by Dali, a surrealistic view of big-city crime and human blight.
Isaac, plagued by a tapeworm and a compassionate conscience (are they the same?), cuts short a tour as the Justice Department's first Alexander Hamilton fellow after a visit to a children's detention center. He comes back to New York, haunted by the blank eyes of the children, to find that a mob lawyer is missing and that he is scheduled to speak to the Christy Mathewson Club of baseball addicts.
There Isaac spots a childhood sweetheart, his "Anastasia." Obsessed with finding his lost love, Isaac hurdles from one wildly improbable adventure to another. There are warring mob families, FBI secret plots, a miffed mayor when Isaac neglects their long-standing affair as he pursues his childhood love, a near-fist fight with the school chancellor umpired by a Roman Catholic cardinal. Some of the most hilarious scenes come as Isaac is arrested, sent to Rikers Island and then brought to trial.
Charyn's antic humor isn't for everyone. And he pushes his luck. About three-quarters of the way through The Good Policeman, one gets a feeling that the act should have ended sooner. Nothing is quite as funny as it first seemed. But it was great fun getting that far. Dunn's Whodunit A RECORDED message on his telephone answering machine speeds Micah Dunn, the New Orleans private eye, to the airport to meet an incoming flight. Julia Morvant, a passenger, says she needs help and quickly. Dunn arrives just as news comes that the plane, with 67 passengers, has blown up over a swamp.
That is just the beginning of an escalating body count in The Caesar Clue (St. Martin's, $16.95), the second outing for Dunn, the former Marine captain who came back from Vietnam with a lame arm and nightmare dreams. M.K. Shuman revs up the action to a breakneck pace -- and the bodies pile up -- apparently in the hope that the reader will not ponder the absurdities of the plot.
Somehow, in little more than 200 pages, we have the plane blown up by a bomb, hired killers, a rogue Pentagon agency, missing hookers, a congressman with a good public image but private secrets, Van Gogh, drug dealers, a witness stashed in a psychiatric hospital, plastic surgery and, finally, a showdown at a riverside plantation amid the mounting winds and rising waters of a hurricane.
The nicest thing about The Caesar Clue (a reference to the plane victim's cryptic Shakespearean allusion: "It'll make Marc Antony look like a piker") is the New Orleans backdrop. Shuman shares his affection for the city and his knowledge of its lively history. By the way, the Caesar clue turns out to be so far-fetched that the real shocker at the end comes when Dunn, who isn't a bad guy as the narrator-private eye, tries to tell us "it's the key to the whole business." The problem is there is no key to the whole business in the overloaded plot. True Confessions FOR LIZ CONNORS, a free-lance writer who specializes in true-crime stories, it's the most important case in her life. In Until Proven Innocent (Villard, $16.95), she must try to clear her lover, Cambridge Police Lt. Jack Lingemann, of charges of destroying evidence, rape and, finally, murder.
With Lingemann in jail and civic groups calling for his head, Liz must try to find out why he was set up to take a fall. She enlists the help of two reporters and two cop-friends to dig up information that links several seemingly unrelated crimes over l3 years: the death of a child in a tenement fire, the assassination of an investigative reporter, the car-bomb killing of a landowner who wouldn't sell out to a real-estate developer and the mugging death of a woman accountant.
Liz Connors, appearing in her fourth mystery in the series by Susan Kelly, doesn't yield in charm or appeal to her other sisters in crime. As a free-lance writer of true-crime stories, she slips effortlessly into the role of a semi-amateur sleuth. Kelly gives Liz a strong supporting cast and a neatly turned plot. Jean M. White frequently reviews mysteries for Book World on the third Sunday of the month.