Most crime fiction writers working today are all too imitable. Then there’s Bill James. His Harpur and Iles novels are all style. The characters — thugs on both sides of the law — have a way of talking that’s a hilarious combination of smarm and menace. ... Harpur looks like a yobbo, but is infernally crafty. Iles is urbane, ambitious, and violent—and has a thing for young girls. The crooks, meanwhile, subscribe to business management theory and harbor illusions of joining the upper middle class.
Each of the short books in the series follows Harpur’s and Iles’s efforts to foil a criminal plot while keeping a wary eye on each other. Double crosses and adultery are common. The characters don’t develop much through the series, so it’s not necessary to read the books in order.
The observation about the characters not developing much is especially acute as long as the reader understands two things: We don't necessarily want our main characters to change, and much of the fun in these books comes not from how the characters change, but from the how circumstances change around them. And those circumstances provide a wonderful stage for some memorable characters, the recurring cast of supporting characters as well as the two protagonists.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Harpur and Iles