Sunday, May 27, 2007

Some good lines from Bill James' "Girls"

An instructive comment that I quoted yesterday noted that the characters don't change much over the course of Bill James' Harpur and Iles novels. But that's not entirely true. In the latest of the series, Girls, we are given this heretofore unrevealed biographical datum: Detective Chief Inspector Colin Harpur's sexy, smart and much younger girlfriend, Denise, plays lacrosse for her university.

Denise is also responsible a meditation on mortality from Harpur:

"(H)e would catch himself sometimes storing memories of Denise brilliantly naked, as if he might lose her any day and should make sure he amassed these recollections as a fill-in for her absence. ... This sad urgency, also, arose from age. It meant he knew he could not rely on a future with her and should therefore file these images away in his brain, the way explorers left pemmican and ship's biscuits in igloos for subsequent journeys. But he did not want to be reminded that he could not rely on a future with her by behaving now as though he knew he could not rely on a future with her."
That's the first time I've seen nostalgia compared to pemmican. It's also touching, and it's similar to thoughts that Andrea Camilleri puts in Inspector Salvo Montalbano's head in The Smell of the Night and that I quoted here. In each novel, an author around eighty years old puts suspicions of mortality in the mind of a protagonist thirty or forty years younger. Could the bittersweet wisdom of age be creeping into crime fiction?

Elsewhere, Girls has its share of the funny, caustic commentary that James-lovers have grown accustomed to, as in this exchange between Harpur and his boss, the smarmy, menacing Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles:

"Mrs Grant is not keen on the police, that's right, sir."

"Quite a few like that about these days in luxury houses. It's because speed cameras do their four wheel drive jobs. They think it's persecution. They don't know what we're like when we really persecute, do they, Col?"

Or this, from the perennially insecure Panicking Ralph Ember, doomed but ever hopeful of turning his lowlife bar into a respectable club: "Consider the tainted ancestors of many earls and so on in the House of Lords. What was it Lord Kinnock called them — before he could get the robes on and become one himself? Brigands."

James may have stopped writing anything like a conventional crime story fifteen or twenty years ago, but he can still write a good line and offer a poignant observation.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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