Monday, January 16, 2012

New Bill James novel arrives!!!

Bill James' twenty-eighth Harpur and Iles novel is in hand, and all is right with the world.

Vacuum has drug dealer Mansel Shale finding religion and stepping back from (though not abandoning) his trade in his grief over the shooting deaths of his wife and son. Manic ACC Desmond Iles and scheming DCS Colin Harpur worry about solving the crime. More than that, they wonder whether Shale's retreat will shatter the fragile peace with rival dealer Ralph Ember and bring chaos to the streets.

That's the story through the first three-plus chapters.  As usual with James, though, the real pleasure is the dark, rich, sometimes very funny prose. Here's a sample:
"This pair had to deliver peace on the streets and preserve it: no turf fights, no drive-by salvoes to hail the New Year and/or mark the Queen's official birthday, no domestic torchings, no body-part severances or desocketed eyes. Desocketed eyes really riled Iles. `Desocketed eyes get up my nose,' he'd told Harpur a while ago."
The opening chapters have a bit more of a contemporary edge than other recent books in the series; James' half-mocking portrayal of the rival drug gangs in terms straight off the business page is more acidic than usual, and the author has not neglected the times in which he writes:
"People had less money, yes. As a result, many prioritized their spending more ruthlessly than before, went with absolute, steely dedication for the essentials. That is, they lashed out generously on stuff which would for a while blur the crisis pain and complement their Jobseeker's Allowance, although, of course, it ate into their Jobseeker's Allowance, because prices of the commodities stayed high on account of this increased demand."
So my early verdict is that Vacuum may turn out to be one of the stronger recent entries in the series.
***
I've long been in awe of the Harpur and Iles novels. If you don't want to take my word for it, listen to Ken Bruen, who
"abandoned British crime years ago except for Bill James, who I love. ... His Iles and Harpur series is magnificent."
or Tim Hallinan, who wrote that
"If I were told I could only read five writers for the remainder of my life, and I had to name them at that moment, both Bill James and Anthony Powell would be on the list." 
Here's a checklist of the Harpur and Iles novels. While deciding which ones to look for, read my 2009 interview with Bill James, Part I and Part II.
***
Vacuum is published by the Creme de la Crime imprint, now a branch of Severn House, about which Martin Edwards had some nice things to say last year. Join me in thanking them for having the good taste to publish Bill James.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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8 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I'm usually against multiple exclamation marks, but in this case they are justified. Unfortunately, I'm behind in my Bill James. After reading some random titles in the middle --which were flat-out excellent-- I decided to start at the beginning and read in order. Took me eons to get a copy of the first (loved it) and now I'm stuck finding the second. Argh!

January 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For Bill James I, too, make an exception to my normally religious avoidance of multiple exclamation marks.

It's not necessary to read the books in order. I started with the tenth in the series (Roses, Roses), then read the books as I could find them. Only then did I start buying the books in order. The only advice I'd offer is what I've said before: The series drops off a bit starting with or after Kill Me. Everything until then is excellent; the series loses its way a bit afterward, with occasional high points, as I think this one might be,

But even the weaker books have wonderful dark, funny lines you'll want to quote to your friends.

January 16, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I started with Roses, Roses as well!

January 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read Roses, Roses after the owner of my local used bookstore/cafe handed it to me and said, "I think you might like this." I shudder to think of what might have happened had I not stopped in for a coffee and scone that day.

January 16, 2012  
Anonymous Michelle Duff said...

Thank you for kind words about Bill James' latest title. I will forward your post to the author. (Severn House Publishers)

January 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note, and thanks for picking up this book. I know that Severn House has published some of Bill James’ non-Harpur & Iles work over the years, so I know that Severn House has long had good taste. If you do forward this post, give my regards to Mr. James/Tucker. We had the opportunity to meet at CrimeFest 2010. Ot’s always a pleasure to meet someone whose work one so admires.

January 16, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Kelly, I'd push on and not worry about missing the second, even though there might be some references to it later.

I generally hate those books where the psychopath/serial killer gets a chapter, or more, to provide their own perspective, and it most decidedly is the weak point in the book, and perhaps not a forte for Bill James
(at least, I hope he didn't return to it)

January 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

There are frequent references throughout to events in earlier books. The more recent books will even include footnotes saying, for example, "See Roses, Roses." But previous knowledge is never necessary. The only novel I might advise against reading as one's introduction to the series is In the Absence of Iles, which is atypical in a number of ways. For longtime readers of the series, though, it's an interesting appendix to the other books.

January 18, 2012  

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