Penzler Pick, June 2000:
Like John Harvey and Ian Rankin, Bill James is one of the modern masters of the gritty English police procedural. More bruised and bloody than Reginald Hill's equally recommended Dalziel and Pascoe series (also set in the north of England), James's books, featuring the tag team of Colin Harpur and Desmond Iles, require a reader's sharpest attention. The characters are so familiar to each other and their milieu, and even the inevitable villains, that the dialogue and plotting often appear to be encoded in a language with its own set of meanings.
For example, here are the two hard-working provincial cops, Assistant Chief Constable Iles and Detective Chief Superintendent Harpur, in the process of briefing a young policewoman, Naomi Anstruther, on some of their targeted bad guys just before an upcoming undercover raid:
"Here's the one they call Lovely Mover," Iles replied, a photograph displayed for her in each of his hands. "Delightful clothing on supple limbs. Lincoln W. Lincoln, who came on ahead of the other two to our region. Pathfinder. Explorer. Business emissary. Carries the automatic in a left-mounted shoulder holster under this gorgeous, generously cut jacket. Yes, probably did one of your predecessors as queen of the Eton bar--Eleri, that lovely old rogue. Might have done Si Pilgrim, too, though we don't have LWL down as a throat guru. Perhaps he's been on a course lately.
In other words, Lincoln is a well-dressed thug whose known m.o. doesn't involve throat cutting when it comes to dispatching rivals; he's set up a base of illegal operations inside their territory. Meanwhile, listening to his superior officer, Harpur is occupied with fitting Naomi for her full-body armor, needed for the evening's sure-to-be-violent activities. Although nothing about the night's events is likely to be remotely amusing, the setting is a popular floating restaurant with a cheerful name, the Eton Boating Song. What happens as the operation gets underway could never have been anticipated: Naomi is spotted by two former boyfriends who have no idea she's gone undercover. It's a rotten break for them: they get in the way and die as a result of being in the wrong place at the worst time.
This fiasco is only the beginning. As Kill Me unfolds, the idea of revenge is much bruited about, especially because the forces of police justice fail to nab the killers. James demonstrates again that there's nothing unsubtle about serious police work, as Naomi's bosses both make their way through the intricacies of the case while paying close attention to her stability. Bill James is an admittedly acquired taste that, like a great single-malt Scotch, is worth a little extra effort to acquire. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
The last six books in James's Harpur & Iles series about a nameless city near London have been like one of those gigantic party sandwiches--they're stuffed with prime ingredients but it's hard to tell where one slice ends and another begins. James still offers a lot of nourishment here, especially for longtime fans, but it's beginning to feel as though we're nearing the end of the loaf. Undercover cop Naomi Anstruther survives a shoot-out at a posh London restaurant when a drug operation goes awry, but ex-boyfriend Donald McWater and new flame Lyndon Evans die. As drug dealers fall in and out and police officers appear to bend or break under pressure, Naomi teams up with a young woman friend, Esm?, in a personal quest to avenge the deaths of Donald and Lyndon. Unfortunately, characters who in the past have made us hoot with laughter now mostly grate and beg to be skipped over: the antics of Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur have become less appealing; the lunatic unpredictability of his sleek boss, Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles, has become, well, predictable. James is too gifted a writer to give up without a fight, and he does provide some lovely moments of Ilesian rancor. Also, a nasty piece of work, a police psychiatrist named Rockmain--introduced in Eton Crop--resurfaces with a hilariously kinky request that explains the title. But new readers eager to find out why the Harpur & Iles books have received so much praise would do better to start at the beginning, with You'd Better Believe It, and work their way through to Roses, Roses. (May)
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