Fatalities result when a motorcycle rams into a tree and a car careens off a bridge, but there’s no reason to construe them as homicides. Unfortunate accidents like these happen even in rural mid-Yorkshire, bailiwick of that redoubtable sleuthing pair Chief Supt. Andy (the Fat Man) Dalziel and DCI Peter (the perfect foil) Pascoe (Arms and the Woman, 1999, etc.) Nothing could possibly link these untimely demises to a short-story contest sponsored by one of the local newspapers—until the Dialogues begin appearing: the Dialogues, that arcane literary form in which a confusion of characters often extends to incomprehensible lengths. Disguised as contest entries, the Dialogues foretell a number soon to come up—but whose? As Dalziel and Pascoe struggle to penetrate the impenetrable, the death toll mounts to eight when a pair of homosexual lovers are electrocuted in flagrante. But it’s hard to find a pattern to fit all the victims, or a formula that will render the gnomic meaningful. Paronamania—“a clinical obsession with word games”—becomes a term unsettlingly familiar at CID headquarters, much to the disgust of Dalziel, a meat-and-potatoes copper if ever there was one. But then, with the investigation stuck at zero, a young policeman in love gets the lucky break that cracks the code and the case.
The love story is nice, the puzzler and his puzzles not without interest, but allowing the policeman to upstage charismatic Andy and elegant Peter over the course of 424 pages was not a good move.