I had read four or five of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels randomly over the years, but several months ago I took another reviewer's advice and started reading them all in the order in which they were written. (I'm including the ones I'd read before, since there are often connections between a book and its predecessor--sometimes more than one predecessor--that I missed when I read them randomly.)
It's been an interesting and worthwhile experience, but I wasn't particularly moved to write a review until I got to The Wood Beyond (one I had read before but had almost completely forgotten). In reading this one, I discovered something significant in my enjoyment of the series: the less Dalziel and Pascoe figure in a particular novel, the better I like that novel--by a huge margin. That discovery surprised me a lot, so I came here to write about it.
Of the 14 books I've gotten through so far, my two favorites are Deadheads and Pictures of Perfection. In thinking about why I like those two so much, I first thought it was because they have very unconventional endings, which I won't go into here so as not to spoil them for people who haven't read them yet. But when I read The Wood Beyond immediately after finishing Pictures of Perfection (since it was the next novel published), I saw at once what the real difference is: Dalziel and Pascoe hardly appear at all in Pictures, but The Wood is full of them.
The problem for me is that even at their best those two characters are only marginally interesting, and they get to be tedious pretty fast. Dalziel's outrageous grossness is certainly unique, and he was funny the first few times I encountered him; but rudeness, farting, Scotch-guzzling, crotch-scratching and leering at women's breasts don't hold my interest for very long. And Pascoe... even after all these books, I don't really see a character there at all. He's vaguely prissy, but that's about all I can see in him. His wife Ellie is a little bit better, a little clearer as a person, but not much.
Not only do Dalziel and Pascoe figure heavily in The Wood Beyond, but the book focuses on sides of them that are even more obnoxious than they normally are. Pascoe's manic, compulsive investigation of his great-grandfather's death in WWI is so absurd--and so BORING--that it's nearly impossible to read, but it takes up at least half of the book. Dalziel's hook-up with Cap Marvell is also absurd, and it adds the always revolting (but dear to Reggie Hill's heart) prospect of Dalziel in bed with a woman. Yuck. AND boring.
As I finish out the series, I may discover some other elements that cause me to love Deadheads and Pictures of Perfection and hate The Wood Beyond, but for now it's pretty clear that the less of Dalziel and Pascoe there is in a Dalziel and Pascoe novel, the better that novel is.
Pictures of Perfection (my favorite of them all) is a fantastic book, one of the best works of popular fiction--in ANY genre--I have ever read. It's full of well-developed and VERY believable and interesting characters, even minor characters who barely appear at all; and it tells a fascinating and very original story. I'd gladly give it five stars and recommend it to anybody. (Wield is the star cop in it, and he's far more interesting than either Dalziel or Pascoe is.)
The Wood Beyond, in sharp contrast, is one of the WORST books I've ever read, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody I liked. I had to force myself to finish it, and that's the first time that's happened in reading these first 14 books in the series.