I recently finished reading the latest mystery to be written by one of the genre’s stars, Reginald Hill. The Woodcutter is a stand-alone thriller, set mostly in Cumbria, where Hill now lives, and it tells the story of the rise, fall and renaissance of a remarkable character called Wolf Hadda.
Hadda, the son of a woodcutter, who falls for a glamorous young woman called Imogen. She is the daughter of the local squire, but despite the gap in class and wealth, they are strongly attracted to each other. She challenges him to win her devotion, and he leaves in mysterious circumstances, returning only when his fortune has been made. But what happened during his absence? A short section at the start of the book provides some, but not all, of the explanation. Imogen doesn’t ask too many questions – she marries him, and for a while, all goes well. Hadda’s business empire prospers, he seems to be the man who has everything. But one day, his world falls apart when he is accused of disgraceful crimes.
Hadda loses everything – his fortune, his family, his friends. He is crippled and thought unlikely to survive. But against the odds, he battles on, assisted by a sympathetic psychiatrist, a likeable woman called Alva. Finally, he is released from prison and he returns to his old hunting ground in Cumbria, where he is further aided by Luke, the local vicar. By now his wife has married again – to his former lawyer, the rascally Toby Estover. How will Hadda react – and will he seek to extract vengeance from those who tried to destroy him?
This book seems to follow the pattern of The Count of Monte Cristo, but it isn’t a straightforward revenge thriller by any means. In due course, the narrative veers off in an unexpected direction. Hill keeps his readers on their toes, defying them to guess what will happen next. I certainly did not foresee a startling twist involving Imogen, but I did think that Hadda had some of the same appeal as Hill’s greatest creation, Andy Dalziel. This is a splendidly entertaining book, which I thoroughly recommend.