Thursday, January 01, 2015

The new Harpur and Iles novel from Bill James!

For Disclosures, Number 31 in the Harpus and Iles police procedural series, Bill James gives Panicking Ralph Ember a new origin story and makes his best use yet of Esther Davidson, a high-flying police officer who appeared first in James' non-Hapur and Iles novel Tip Top, written under the same David Craig.

Most of the novel is told as a series of flashback chapters, narrated alternately by Ember and Davidson. I'm not sure what the technique contributes to the story, but James again manages nicely to recapture Ember's pathetic ambitions for his club, the Monty, whose social standing is, now and forever, "admittedly not quite as he would have it, owing to present high yob, slob, slapper and villain membership levels."  And one has to admire the sang-froid of Davidson, who, begins Chapter 30 thus:
"In the morning at The Mandrake Esther went downstairs first, leaving Gerald patching himself up while she looked for the manager to apologize and settle the account. ... `There are some breakages in our room, three-twelve,' she said. `Obviously inadvertent, but I hope you can give me a quick estimate of the cost and I'll do a checque to cover our stay and the accidents with the curtains, the basin in the en suite, and the TV set. I think the sheets will wash out fine if you put them through twice, and the mattress is absolutely OK."
Your humble blogkeeper
(left); Bill James (right)
Davidson and her husband like a bit of rough sex, you see (tastefully kept off-stage), and I don't care what you say, that excerpt is funny.

Though recent Harpur and Iles novels have fallen short of the level established in, say, the first sixteen books, the wordplay is as exuberant as always, and Ralph's patent combination of cowardice and tactical intelligence come to the fore as well as it did in the early novel Panicking Ralph.  James completists will want to read Disclosures, and other readers might like it as well, though I'd advice beginning with the earlier novels.

(Read the Detectives Beyond Borders interview with Bill James at

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Cary Watson said...

If not the best police procedural series, then it has to be the most literary. It's a small wonder it hasn't been adapted for TV, although I think there was a one-off Harpur & Iles TV movie done quite a while ago. Getting James' black, elliptical humor on screen might be tricky.

January 02, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I have the very first one and still haven't read it.

January 02, 2015  
Blogger Cary Watson said...

If you read them in order you'll find that the style and tone changes quite radically. The earliest ones are fairly conventional procedural mysteries. At about book six or seven things get wonderfully eccentric.

January 02, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Thanks, Cary. I'm glad to know that before I start it, as I might wonder what all the fuss was about.

January 02, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary, the Harpur and Iles TV movie appeared in 1997. I have not seen it, and I agree that translating the humor to the screen might be difficult. It would take fine acting to convey the effect of James' elliptioal cross-talk, for instance.

The trouble with calling Harpur and Iles literary is that that word has fallen into such low repute. Conscious of its own style? Sure, but the series is anything but dry, boring, pretentious, or anything else that I generally think of when anyone says, "literary fiction."

January 02, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana and Cary: In fact, I disagree mildly with Cary's assessment. I would say the earliest novels are more like funnier, more morally serious counterparts to those comic gangster movies that Guy Ritchie made some years back. But the series does hit its stride right around book six or seven, around the time Panicking Ralph begins coming to the fore.

The first I read was Roses, Roses, in which Harpur's wife is murdered at the beginning of the book, and the action unfolds in reverse chronological order from there. I was hooked from the start.

Harpur and Iles
1. You'd Better Believe It (1985)
2. The Lolita Man (1986)
3. Halo Parade (1987)
4. Protection (1988)
aka Harpur and Iles
5. Come Clean (1989)
6. Take (1990)
7. Club (1991)
8. Astride a Grave (1991)
9. Gospel (1992)
10. Roses, Roses (1993)
11. In Good Hands (1994)
12. The Detective is Dead (1995)
13. Top Banana (1996)
14. Panicking Ralph (1997)
15. Lovely Mover (1998)
16. Eton Crop (1999)
17. Kill Me (2000)
18. Pay Days (2001)
19. Naked at the Window (2002)
20. The Girl with the Long Back (2003)
21. Easy Streets (2004)
22. Wolves of Memory (2005)
23. The Sixth Man and Other Stories (2006)
23. Girls (2006)
24. Pix (2007)
25. In the Absense of Iles (2008)
26. Hotbed (2009)
27. I Am Gold (2010)
28. Vacuum (2011)
29. Undercover (2012)
30. Play Dead (2013)
31. Disclosures (2014)

January 02, 2015  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I haven't come close to reading all of them yet, but I'm still happy they're being produced. He's one of the best.

January 06, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, the series has to be one of the longer-running ones in all of crime fiction. I don't where the gaps are in your Harpur and Iles reading, but as always, I suggest reading the first, say, 19 books before the later ones.

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Steve said...

Hi Peter. I am loving your love for the great and undervalued Bill James. I have read a few of the earlier stories and planning on getting some of his later books. Can you tell me, do you have any particular favourites regarding the later Harpur and Iles novels, say from GIRLS onwards? Thank you.

September 29, 2016  

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