The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
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Buy *The Woodcutter* by Reginald Hill online

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
528 pages
August 2011
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The Woodcutter is my first foray into Hill’s writing. The chilly surrounds of Cumbria shape a plot of epic proportions as the barriers between class and respectability are tested. Moving from the financial crisis of 2008 to the economic revival of 2018, the story explores the more violent aspects of the human condition along with far-reaching ramifications of revenge and retribution.

Never one to forget his working class roots, Wilfred “Wolf” Hadda is self-made man. Having acquired a fortune of several millions along with a private jet and residences in Holland Park, this lowly woodcutter fell in love with a beautiful princess and danced on a castle lawn. His wife, Imogene, born of wealth and privilege, has transformed into an elegant sophisticated woman; his lovely daughter, Ginny, lives in France.

Then comes Hadda’s arrest on child porn charges. Investigation for fraud follows soon after. For a man of his position, shady business deals are one thing, even tolerable, but as Hadda assaults his arresting officer, DI Medler, important questions surface over his innocence and guilt. When Toby Estover, Hadda’s solicitor, shows his laptop with snatches of video, the pictures are haunting. Found guilty on all accounts, Hadda is sentenced to popular acclaim and ensconced in Parkleigh Prison, Essex.

Hadda, a man who gravitates between violence and compliance, feels the chill of fear beneath the volcano of anger and indignation simmering inside him. Years pass, and Hadda still bears the wounds - and pain - inflicted by a terrible accident. After six months in a coma, he’s a bent and broken man exhibiting a permanent limp, scared face, a black eyepatch, and a leather glove on his right hand.

This new, humble Hadda meets prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo, a rising star in a profession that studies the management of long-term prisoners. As Alva studies Hadda’s file, something doesn’t bring true about Hadda’s predilection for pubescent girls. When he offers her a series of blue notebooks, reading them is the first step on a journey that will take Alva to some very dark places as she develops a portrait of a man physically scarred, psychologically damaged and “morally repugnant.”

An insinuating emotional onslaught, Hill reveals the increasingly intimate dynamic between patient and doctor. Alva is given the job of getting to the heart of Hadda’s life, revealing corrupt, thuggish cops, bent solicitors, and class-ridden agendas as her patient’s "dangerous charm" seems to get the better of her. While the bad guys come as no surprise, the threads of Hadda’s past on the estate of Sir Leo and Lady Kira Ulphinstone ultimately hold the key to his futile imprisonment.

For all of The Woodcutter’s dynamism, I felt a bit underwhelmed as Hill unfolds his brutal tale of bad, disgraced, working-class boy. While much of the narrative is punctuated with passages of tedious dialogue, "the axe" is powerful, striking at the heart of English aristocracy as the incorruptible Hadda survives to fight another day.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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