The Fat Man is back. For fans of the award-winning Dalziel-Pascoe mysteries, this is good news indeed.

Andy Dalziel, comatose throughout "Death Comes for the Fat Man," finds himself recuperating in a convalescent home in a small seaside resort that has reinvented itself as "Home of the Healthy Holiday." Sandytown could equally bill itself as home of the terminally eccentric, as true believers in therapies of all sorts uneasily collaborate with the Sandytown Development Coalition and assorted hangers-on.

When an appropriately bizarre murder occurs, Peter Pascoe conducts the official investigation, but Fat Andy can't stop himself from running his own parallel search for the truth.

Like previous Dalziel-Pascoe novels, "The Price of Butcher's Meat" offers an intellectually satisfying mystery, deep character studies and witty social commentary clothed in elegant, literate prose.

Hill's mastery of narrative voice creates vitality out of devices that in lesser hands could be disastrous: A big chunk of the story takes the form of e-mails sent by a local psychology student to her sister in Africa, while another comprises stream of consciousness observations recorded on tape by Andy Dalziel as part of his psychiatric therapy.

Both are interspersed with a more standard third-person narration, and all three work brilliantly.

The title pays homage to Jane Austen's unfinished novel,"Sanditon"; readers familiar with it will revel in the allusions, but everyone else can enjoy "The Price of Butcher's Meat" on its own terms.