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A Cure For All Diseases by Reginald Hill

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Reginald Hill’s A Cure For All Diseases went to the top of my TBR after I reviewed Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady last year, and was advised by FictionFan that A Cure For All Diseases was a modern retelling of Sanditon as crime fiction, of all things! The only thing was, A Cure For All Diseases is the 21st book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series of novels – so of course I skipped the first 20 books featuring the famous British Police duo and started reading the one I was interested in.

I’m sure fellow Janeite’s will agree with me that A Cure For All Diseases is brilliant. The story is set at Sandytown… Get it? Sanditon! Most of Jane Austen’s characters from Sanditon are in A Cure For All Diseases with their personalities untouched, albeit modernised.

The story begins with the Parker family suffering a car accident on the Heywood’s property and meeting Charlotte (Charley) Heywood and her family. The two families become friendly and Charley is invited to accompany the Parkers to their home in Sandytown, where Tom Parker is creating a health resort with the assistance of Lady Daphne Denham. Tom is keen on alternative therapies and altruistically wants everyone in the world to benefit from an association with Sandytown, but Lady Denham, true to Jane Austen’s character, is in it for the money.

Charley tells her part of the story in a series of emails to her sister in Africa and she doesn’t leave much out. She meets Lady Denham’s nephew, the hunky Sir Edward Denham and his snarky sister Esther, Lady Denham’s mysterious companion, Clara, and most of the other townspeople. Eventually, Tom Parker’s brother Sydney turns up in Sandytown too and he turns out to be another hunk for Charley to gush over in her emails to her sister.

Superintendent Andy Dalziel is also in Sandytown, convalescing at the Avalon Foundation after being seriously injured in a work incident. As part of his therapy, Andy tells his story to a tape recorder he has named Mildred, which we read as he speaks.

Once Pascoe, Wield and other characters from the police enter the story, after Lady Denham is spectacularly murdered and found roasting in a spit-like contraption at her own hog-roast, an omniscient narrator also appears.

I loved the references to Jane Austen’s Sanditon, the setting was gorgeous, the characters were alive and the story brilliant, but for me, Andy’s narrative voice was the highlight of the book. He was rude, politically incorrect, swore constantly, spoke in a Yorkshire dialect (generally I hate reading dialects) and he rubbed most people up the wrong way, but Andy was also funny, clever and kind. He and Charley, a student psychologist, got along like a house on fire.

Andy’s description of Doctor Lester Feldenhammer, who he calls ‘Festerwhanger” was the first thing that made me laugh aloud;

“I could tell he were a Yank as soon as he opened his gob. Not the accent but the teeth! It were like looking down an old-fashioned bog, all vitreous china gleaming white. Bet he gargles with Harpic twice a day.”

Readers familiar with the regular characters from the books or television series Dalziel and Pascoe would have enjoyed the following description of meeting up with Andy again.

“Mebbe Pete’s smile were a bit strained, and it’s hard to tell if Wieldy’s grinning or passing a hard turd, but I swear young Bowler had tears in his eyes and Ivor Novello even gave me a hug!”

I thought I had a good idea of who murdered Lady Daphne and why, but it turns out I didn’t. I was left feeling pleased with myself for picking a couple of twists which were revealed at the book’s conclusion.

My only complaint was that Charley’s emails to her sister were too contrived, with excessive description and detail, but for the purposes of telling the story in a way that honoured Sanditon, they worked.

Being unfamiliar with the books and the television series didn’t affect my enjoyment of A Cure For All Diseases, which I felt worked as a stand-alone story. I enjoyed A Cure For All Diseases so much that I would be delighted to learn that this author has written alternate versions of any other Jane Austen novels he chose to. (I can almost imagine Emma murdering someone and Dalziel sizing her up… As Jane Austen once suggested, I don’t much like Emma…)

I don’t know why I’ve never read anything by Reginald Hill before, but this year now looks as if it will be dedicated to my reading the Dalziel and Pascoe series from beginning to end, and anything else Reginald Hill has ever written.

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