By Reginald Hill
Occasionally a book comes along that engages the reader but does not lend itself easily to any category. The Woodcutter, written by crime fiction master Reginald Hill, is such a novel.
It begins with Wolf Hadda, a successful man of the city, master of finance and friend to those in both government and business, a man who built an empire on his own. His life unravels as he is accused of financial misdealings and being a child pornographer. He is arrested, escapes and is grievously wounded when recaptured. His wife deserts him and his only child dies while he is in prison.
Years later, this shell of a man unleashes a plot of revenge after a young prison psychologist attempts to break through what is left of his encrusted ego.
Although the ups and downs of Wolf's life, told through letters, flashbacks and present-day narrative, are fascinating, it is not apparent for much of the novel whether he is guilty or innocent. If he is innocent, who would go to such elaborate lengths to set him up, and why? But if he is guilty, is he about to become an even more dangerous character if he ever is free?
Hill, whose beloved series of police procedurals featuring the irrascible Dalziel and straight arrow Pascoe has grown ever more complex and rewarding over the years, goes all out in exploring what may be the dilemma of an innocent man in reclaiming his life or the extremely clever plotting of a master criminal intent on rebuilding his empire.
Although a reader may form a conclusion early on as to which of these situations is the true one, it is fascinating to see how other readers could come to the opposite conclusion.
The novel is ultimately about the lengths a person will go to when showing the world he has what it takes is more important than even twisted love, and definitely more important than worldly success or honor. With an ending that is all too neatly gift-wrapped and tied with a gaudy bow, a reader may be excused for wondering what all the technical prowess was about. A new relationship at the end does not honor one of the people in it because it dishonors that character's profession. And that relationship could even be seen as an authorial dismissal of that profession. If, however, the journey is what matters, then that reader will be amply rewarded by this display of Hill's considerable agility.
©2012 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission