Wednesday, December 16, 2015

More good words from Bill James

Thirty years on, Bill James' Harpur and Iles crime novels ("His Iles and Harpur series is magnificent," raved Ken Bruen.) may have fallen off a bit from their peak. The series was terrific from its beginning, with You'd Better Believe It (1985), then caught a thematic wave that lasted from Club (1991) through, say, Eton Crop (1999).

Commentators love the books' savage humor, occasionally invoking Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge plays.  The novels also create touching and hilarious portraits of aspirations to respectability on the part of low-life gangsters, notable the great Panicking Ralph Ember.

But James is such a good prose stylist that even the least of the books contains lines you'll want to quote to your friends. Perhaps the weakest of the novels, The Girl With the Long Back, contains one the series' very best lines. (The line concerns the title character's offer to show Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles her butterfly; she's a swimmer, you see.)

The latest in the series, Blaze Away, published this spring, looks so far to rank fairly high among recent entries. And, as does every book in the series, it contains the sort of dialogue you won't read elsewhere. Here Detective Chief Inspector Colin Harpur replying to a query from his informant, the shady art dealer Jack Lamb:
"‘It’s the ochre that speaks to my centre, too,’ Harpur said. ‘I thrill to that drumbeat.’ He knew Jack prized this kind of ramshackle, barmy conversation. Lamb obviously thought it made Harpur a more or less happily enmeshed associate of Jack’s brilliantly prosperous, profoundly dodgy vocation as fine arts huckster, sales online or by appointment.
Here me and Bill James. And
here's my two-part interview
with him
The novel also nails a voguish usage much favored by corporate executives and politicians who want to avoid scrutiny:
"They wanted all their dealings to be entirely transparent – a modish term that George found deeply unreal."
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Blogger Unknown said...

Have read Bill James for years and found this series to be be a good, snappy read and different with each story. Do not understand why this series has not been more popular--readers are missing a treat and there are plenty of stories to sample.

December 16, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a puzzle to me, too. Maybe James' writing is too good.

December 16, 2015  

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