Q: The first Colin Harpur novel appeared in 1985, and Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles came along a bit later. What else was going on in British crime fiction at the time? What did you set out to do differently? Other than Anthony Powell, what writers haunted your imagination?As Bill James describes above, the Harpur & Iles series revolves around Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur, who tries to navigate the treacherous territory between his immediate superior, Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles, who is more a force of nature than an officer of the law, and their boss, the utterly inept Chief Constable Mark Lane. Harpur isn't above cutting corners himself, but Iles borders on being a psychopath. So our "hero" faces the difficult choice of protecting an effective, if often illegal, weapon against crime or turning the department over to a man he knows will lose the war on crime to the criminals.
In Good Hands opens in the aftermath of the murder of two crims who'd beaten the rap for killing a promising young policeman. Pretty much everyone assumes they were executed by Iles, whose mistress they'd also killed. Now Lane wants Harpur to spy on Iles and pin the killings on him. Meanwhile, two more underworld figures, Lester Magellan and Raoul Caesar Brace, have just been found murdered in nearly identical fashion. Though Iles doesn't appear to have a similar motive for vengeance, he's the most likely suspect. Of course, it could have been 'Panicking' Ralph Ember, whose 14 year-old daughter was having an affair with Brace, known to one and all as "the original nice guy." Or it could also have just been a prophylactic killing, since Magellan was part of a gang planning on robbing a local drug lord, a plan that's none too secret.
This isn't the easiest series to join in the middle and James's writing style offers unique challenges to the reader anyway. The author famously relies on dialogue to drive his stories--a la Elmore Leonard--but often has the characters engage in near monologues, talking over each other and not answering each others' questions. Each book also assumes some considerable familiarity with the tangled histories between the cops, between the criminals, and between cops and criminals: like the fact that Harpur had an affair with Iles's wife and that Iles own taste for young girls has him currently chasing Harpur's daughter. Indeed, it's all sufficiently complex and foreign to an American reader in particular, that you may take awhile to realize that James is actually writing a epic dark comedy. The first time you laugh out loud you may not even know that you're supposed to. But once you get the rhythms down you'll gobble joyfully through this great set of novels.
-WIKIPEDIA: Bill James
-GOOGLE BOOK: In Good Hands by Bill James
-AUTHOR PAGE: Bill James (Tangled Web)
-BIBLIOGRAPHY: Harpur & Iles by Bill James (Norton Books)
-AUTHOR PAGE: Bill James (Fantastic Fiction)
-INFO: Harpur & Iles (1997) (IMDB)
-EXCERPT: Chapter One of Middleman by Bill James
-INTERVIEW: Interview with the master, Part I: Detectives Beyond Borders talks with Bill James (Peter Rozovsky , 6/29/09, Detectives Beyond Borders)
Q: The first Colin Harpur novel appeared in 1985, and Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles came along a bit later. What else was going on in British crime fiction at the time? What did you set out to do differently? Other than Anthony Powell, what writers haunted your imagination?
-INTERVIEW: Interview with the master, Part II: Bill James on dialogue, gleeful savagery, and crime fiction vs. detective fiction (Peter Rozovsky , 6/29/09, Detectives Beyond Borders)
Q: One distinctive feature of your dialogue is the elliptical cross-talk mainly between Harpur and Iles, but also between Harpur and other characters. They talk around each other, answering questions the other did not ask, ignoring ones that are asked. Talk about this technique, your models (if any) for it, and what it adds to the characters and the books.
-INTERVIEW: An Interview with Bill James (Anthony Brockway, November 2004)
-INTERVIEW: with Bill James (Art of Detection)
-LIST: The 50 Greatest Crime Writers (Times of London, 4/18/08)
-PROFILE: Bill James Crime Novelist Extraordinaire (The Alex Grant Column, August 2002, HackWriters)
-REVIEW: of In Good Hands by Bill James (Tangled Web)
-REVIEW: of Come Clean by Bill James (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Lovely Mover by Bill James (Lynda Ross, Tangled Web)
-REVIEW: of Eton Crop by Bill James (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Panicking Ralph by Bill James (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Kill Me by Bill James (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Girls by Bill James (Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction)
-REVIEW: of Girls (Heather, Errant Dreams)
-REVIEW: of The Girl With the Long Back by Bill James (John A. Gould, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of Wolves of Memory (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Wolves of Memory by Bill James (Marcel Berlins, Times of London)
-REVIEW: of Wolves of Memory (Heather, Errant Dreams)
-REVIEW: of Wolves of Memory (Mary Whipple, Mostly Fiction)
-REVIEW: of Wolves of Memory (Paul Kane, Compulsive Reader)
-REVIEW: of In the Absence of Iles by Bill James (Laura Wilson, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Middleman by Bill James (Peter Guttridge, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Letters from Carthage by Bill James (Publishers Weekly)
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