This is the eighth novel in Hill’s Dalziel & Pascoe mystery series and it’s kind of amazing that the duo is still interesting eight novels in. The pair of mismatched detectives was originally slated to appear in a supporting role in one novel, but there’s something really compelling about the pair that inspired Hill and continues to engage readers. The profane, slovenly, rude Dalziel & the refined, handsome, educated Pascoe just still play off of each other perfectly. In this novel, our detectives are taken up with the deaths of three elderly men on the same night. This is a great example of what separates Hill from his genre compatriots; in a typical mystery novel, there’d be some sort of literal connection to tie all three cases together, but here the connections are thematic. The book is, in some ways, about the last moments of life. The title refers to those witty bon mots or menacing pronouncements usually made by characters as they exit from stage or screen. This sort of metaphorically ties to the last words of life, those final dying words. And in Hill’s bleak vision the genius and profundity found in fiction typically escapes us in reality. The “exit lines” we deliver are, in this novel, ultimately meaningless, confused babbling on the door of eternity. By extension, Hill wonders, maybe our lives themselves are meaningless. This is a bleak novel, obviously, but it’s filled with Hill’s signature dark wit. Of the three threads that make up this novel, one of them is significantly weaker than the others; it sees Dalziel accused of running down an old man while driving drunk and its quite predictable. The other two, a brutal home invasion killing and a slip on the ice that may be less accidental than it appears, are really good. The final scene of the book is a real winner, bleak, grim and filled with despair. Hill’s mystery novels are always more literary than most, more interested in real emotions and thematic resonance. This one isn’t as good as it could be, but it’s still a compelling read. 3 stars.
tl;dr – mismatched detectives investigate three separate cases in this bleak, emotionally grim novel that’s ultimately a moving statement about the final passages of life. 3 stars.