"Harpur had often heard Iles quote that guru he'd mentioned, Sartre, who said, `Hell is other people,' though that, apparently, didn't stop him shagging oodles of them. Naturally, Iles said it in French first, and then generously translated for Harpur. And sometimes Harpur would think, Yes, hell is other people, such as Iles."
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Readers of long-running crime-fiction series like to talk about how authors keep their series fresh, with love, death and alcohol being primary instruments of change. But authors can be better off sticking with what they do best.
Hotbed, twenty-sixth in Bill James' Harpur & Iles series, dispenses with such recent novelties as Eastern European competition for the series' established drug dealers (Girls) or the absence of Harpur (In the Absence of Iles). Instead, James concentrates on what he does so well: deceit, mistrust, evasion, and fear of betrayal, lavishly rendered in gorgeous, flamboyant, theatrically self-conscious prose.
Here the antagonists are Mansel Shale and (Panicking) Ralph Ember, the drug barons of long standing whose uneasy alliance is threatened, as successful businesses will be these days, by mutual fear that one will try to achieve a monopoly by eliminating the other. Here, too, the rivalries and mutual jealousies of Harpur, the detective chief superintendent, and his manic boss, are highlighted, the accent a bit more on Harpur's thoughts about Iles and a bit less on Iles' manic rage and froth.
Ember, fearful of Shale's possible ambition, plants a spy in Shale's rival drugs firm, the spy disappears and comes to a bad end, and the dance of deceit begins. Ember's susceptible teenage daughter longs for the vanished underling. Shale fears that his off-stage ex-wife will disrupt his pending wedding. Shale's fiancee and the victim's actor brother are the latest in James' string of bothersomely clever outsiders threatening the uneasy peace by asking disturbingly probing questions.
James is more conscious than ever of the series' theatricality, a theatricality of words more than of gestures. The invokes Jacobean drama, as critics and reviewers have done in discussing the Harpur & Iles series. Here are few of those words:
© Peter Rozovsky 2010