Bill James’s Colin Harpur and Desmond Iles series is remarkable for leaving so many loose ends dangling at the conclusion of each novel. Part of James’s approach is that he is writing not only individual books but also one giant novel in which the events in one book have ramifications in a later work. In some cases, the two protagonists, Harpur and Iles, receive equal attention. In others, one is more prominent than the other. In some, the villains overshadow the veteran police officers, though James does not glamorize or romanticize criminals. No matter how well dressed or how many adult education courses they complete, they remain ruthless thugs.
According to James, he does not strive for realism, preferring to create a stylized universe with some realistic touches. This approach makes the often unusual events facing his police have a dreamlike logic. In addition to the setting, the time is also vague, with none of the characters ever getting any older. All the events seem to be occurring in an eternal present.
Throughout the Harpur and Iles series, James favors the down-to-earth Harpur over the rather pompous Iles. However, the assistant chief constable is never a caricature, the target of easy irony. Charming and smart, though not as smart as he likes to think, Iles is a fully realized creation. He and Harpur, the Everyman, together represent a single complex and flawed personality. Both make mistakes. Each is aware of at least some of...
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