Picking up where I Am Gold left off, James’s 28th Harpur & Iles mystery finds Mansel Shale so affected by the murders of his wife, Naomi, and son, Laurent, that he decides to delegate management of his “recreational firm”—everything from Ecstasy to H—to Michael Redvers Arlington, who’s lacking in command experience and sometimes believes himself to be Gen. Francisco Franco. Meanwhile, the new chief constable, Sir Matthew Upton, sees an opportunity to crush both Shales’s firm and that of Ralph Ember and create a “drugs-free city.” Iles is the first to observe that “Nature abhors a vacuum,” a theme that’s echoed repeatedly by various characters on both sides of the criminal divide. While Harpur struggles to prevent the disorganization of Shales’s group from resulting in more killings, Iles works on educating Upton about the superiority of a balanced détente. James’s clever wordplay and broadly humorous take on Arlington’s Franco persona help distinguish this entry. (Dec.)
The qualities that make James' books stand out from the crowd are his masterful ability with words and his howlingly funny, darkly brutal humor. Local drug kingpin Mansel Shale becomes a shadow of his former self after his wife and son are gunned down in what appears to be a hit gone wrong. In his grief, Mansel has turned to religion, leaving his drug business up for grabs. His second in command, a weirdo who believes he is Generalissimo Franco, is the wrong man to head up the organization, especially with rival Ralph Ember eager to gain control of Shale's territory. Neither Assistant Chief Des Iles nor DCS Colin Harpur wants a drug war, both believing in Iles' motto, "No blood on the pavement." But their new chief has a different motto"Lock 'em up and toss away the key"and is pushing matters in the wrong direction, forcing Harpur and Iles to head off the danger, keep villains and victims happy, and ensure that their town remains peaceful, if drug-ridden. Despite the seriousness of the plot, it's impossible not to laugh aloud at the fierce ripostes, subtle digs, and overt insults peppered across every page. A true delight from a genre master.
The qualities that make James’ books stand out from the crowd are his masterful ability with words and his howlingly funny, darkly brutal humor. Despite the seriousness of the plot, it’s impossible not to laugh aloud at the fierce ripostes, subtle digs, and overt insults peppered across every page. A true delight from a genre master
What happens when the status quo goes belly up? Rival drug barons Mansel Shale and Panicking Ralphy Ember treat each other with benign neglect. No drive-by shootings of couriers. No back-alley dispatching of underlings. No messy attempts to wrest control of the area around Valencia Esplanade from each other. There's a simmering tension, sure, but life is basically quiet for mobsters and civilians alike, which is just how Acting Chief Constable Iles likes it. When Shale abdicates his fiefdom and turns to religion after the shooting death of his wife and son (I Am Gold, 2011, etc.), however, the status is no longer quo. His second in command, who sometimes thinks he's General Franco back in the 1930s, may not be suited for leadership. Hints that the third goon in line may be making plans to elevate himself to Number One cause his girlfriend Karen, who's afraid he'll get himself killed, to ask DCS Harpur to intercede. Margaret Ember, who suspects that her husband is responsible for the Shale killings, is so afraid she and her daughters will be targets of retribution that she calls on Karen in a bid for sympathy. Sir Upton, Iles' new superior, who wants to take advantage of the Shale organization's disarray and rid the area of his rival as well, orders a raid on Ember. So many people stepping into the vacuum left by Shale mean that there'll inevitably be corpses. And sly maneuvering. Until, thankfully, an emotional reversal sets matters right again. A noir farce that's just as wickedly funny as most of the 27 other Harpur and Iles escapades--compelling evidence that James is long overdue for a major award.