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Author: Reginald Hill

Title: The Woodcutter

Publisher: HarperCollins

Trade Paperback: 519 pages

ISBN: 978-0-00-734388-1

Price: £12.99

Publication Date: 22/07/2010

I knew I was going to like Wolf Hadda [real name Wilfred – you can see why the nickname was a blessing] as soon as he thumped a particularly obnoxious detective in the face. At the time he is sitting in police custody accused of paedophilia, a charge he refutes but one that heralds the beginning of the collapse of his previously perfect life. Partially blinded and crippled by an ill-advised escape attempt, he awakens from a coma to find that his wife, Imogen, is divorcing him [to subsequently marry his lawyer and friend], his friends have abandoned and shunned him and that he has lost his money and knighthood. His tragedy is complete when, languishing in prison, he is informed that his only daughter has died. It’s no wonder then that on his release almost a decade later he is looking for revenge on the people he claims framed him.

If this sounds like it could be the plot from a myth or a legend – or even a Jacobean revenge tragedy – then that is probably not far from what Hill intended. From the beauty and the beast relationship between Wolf and his psychiatrist [whose name, Alva, derives from the Swedish for elf] to Wolf’s (ex)wife being referred to as a princess [and whose hand Wolf wins after fulfilling a set of tasks], The Woodcutter is awash with mythic and fairy tale references. Even the name, Wolf Hadda, sounds like it should belong to a Norse warrior – an image that Wolf lives up to by wandering through the wintery Cumbrian landscape naked and with an axe in his hand like some sort of atavistic presence.

This sort of odd and humorous occurrence is something that Hill is especially adept at. In one brilliant description, a local of the small Cumbrian town that Wolf grew up in is described as  ‘a pillar of the chapel who reckoned that Anglicans were papists in mufti.’ In just a few words Hill wittily conveys the character of this man, and it’s representative of the elegance of phrase that characterises this novel and the lack of waste [it isn’t often that you find a book of over 500 pages where nothing is extraneous].

When it thumped down onto my desk [and it really did thump], I have to profess that I was slightly intimidated. On the plus side though, manhandling this book on the tube proved to be a fairly good physical workout [although I’m probably still not strong enough to become a woodcutter]. And it also served to make me read at a far slower pace; a process that this book undoubtedly deserves.

This was a delight of a book to read and, although I have spent almost the entirety of this review referring to Wolf, there are also a raft of other intriguing characters who flesh this book out and a murky plot of intrigue, drugs, sex and violence that was a joy to read.

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