This is the ninth novel in Hill’s Dalziel & Pascoe mystery series and it’s a real winner. The central mystery plot revolves around a great premise: an elderly, incredibly wealthy woman has died and her family gathers round to figure out who gets the money. But her obsession in life has spilled over into her death; her son was listed Missing in Action during World War II and now all of her money has been left to him, to be held in trust for twenty years. It’s all about the characters in a Hill novel and this one has some really great ones: crafty lawyer Eden Thackeray, shy but intelligent Lexie Huby, the glamorous leader of a fascist hate group, a bitter tavern keeper and more. In all of the books to this point, Sergeant Wield has been a supporting character and we’ve been reminded in small ways in all the books that he’s both gay and closeted; this is the eighties and it might ruin his career should he be discovered. But a large portion of this book is taken up with the fallout when a rumor starts about a gay cop in the force. Hill writes great character stuff for Wield here and he finds a way to make the brouhaha over a gay cop both hilariously funny and also disturbing. Dalziel and Pascoe both get some interesting, thoughtful character development in this subplot and Dalziel’s final coup de grace in this plotline is nothing short of brilliant. The various mysteries are suitably opaque; there’s a final twist that I hadn’t seen coming at all, though I instantly realized all the reasons I should have. And it’s only in the final pages that we discover why the novel is called Child’s Play and the darkness of that realization sinks in slowly enough that it hangs on after the novel is over. This is one of the best in the series in my opinion. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – great new characters and fascinating development of returning characters elevate this already confounding and brilliant mystery novel to one of Hill’s absolute best. 3 ½ stars.