Alphabet of Crime: Keeping up with the Jameses.

The book’s location is MYSTERY > JAMES. Quick – who’s the author?

Chances are you guessed P.D. James, the doyenne of contemporary British crime fiction, who over the past fifty years has penned over a score of titles – most featuring buttoned-down Inspector-cum-Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh – that have consistently raised the bar on what is possible in crime fiction, and won scores of fans among genre and literary readers alike. Fair enough, and fans of James should check out her recent master class on the genre, Talking About Detective Fiction.

Find Bill James' Undercover in the Seattle Public Library catalog.But there’s someone else shelved at MYSTERY > JAMES that you should meet: Bill James, the prolific British crime novelist with nearly 70 titles to his name (or his pseudonyms), including 29 titles featuring Chief Inspector Colin Harpur and Chief Constable Desmond Iles. James is much better known in the UK than here, but his Harpur and Iles books are masterpieces of dialogue, filled with droll quips and brilliant riffs of naturalistic skaz and gallows humor, dancing against a backdrop of slaughter and depravity. The detectives are flawed, but not in those typical and trodden ways we’ve all become so used to – alcohol, depression. Far more realistically – and sustainably – our anti-heroic duo exhibit the kind of divertingly unpleasant behaviour that gets men to the top and keeps them there, undercutting their colleagues and each other, endlessly maneuvering for advantage, sniping and posturing and joking with an offhand callousness that we come to realize is the only way through this particular dark and scary forest. Amidst a sea of soundalike crime fiction, the Harpur and Isles series has a riotous and morbidly funny voice all its own. Take one for a spin – you just might fall in love.

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