Bill James is best known for his long-running Colin Harpur and Desmond Iles series. These books are unusual because they pay almost as much attention to the criminals as to the police, with both good and bad guys sharing characteristics, including a belief in self-improvement through higher education. James has said that he is equally interested in both sides of the law and that his novels are about the impossibility of controlling crime through conventional methods. He has cited George V. Higgins as the main influence on his work, calling The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) the greatest crime novel ever. Both writers share an interest in gritty urban settings and realistic, though playful dialogue.
The Harpur and Iles books are essentially exercises in mood and style, with James’s dialogue a distinctive blend of that of Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, David Mamet, and especially Harold Pinter. His characters develop an almost-music-hall-like patter reminiscent of early Pinter plays. Although many prominent mystery and detective writers are highly productive, James is one of the few to have increased productivity and improved quality after turning fifty.