Monday, 25 March 2019

BILL JAMES - HITMEN I HAVE KNOWN (2019)


Synopsis/blurb.....

Assistant Chief Constable Iles finds himself suspected of murder in the fast-paced 35th installment of the popular Harpur and Iles police procedural series.

Tensions in the community are mounting following the gruesome deaths of two men, both of whom were accused yet acquitted of the murder of an undercover police officer. It looks like vigilante justice, but who is responsible? Alarmingly, suspicion falls on Assistant Chief Constable Iles.

Matters escalate when a TV show investigating the murders is aired, further implicating Iles. Iles seems at ease with the accusations, as are his superiors in the police force. But others are not feeling so secure.

Local crime bosses Ralph Ember and Mansel Shale fear reprisals against Iles will result in their own businesses suffering. And so they begin to plan how to remove potential troublemakers from their path . . .

I'm pretty sure I have read the first in this series a fair few years ago and at one time I harboured delusions of reading the whole series, probably when he was on about number 20, maybe 15 years ago. Since then at a pace of about one a year, this 90 year old author (or thereabouts) has sped further away from me.

Here we have our long-running double act, Harpur and Iles pondering an upcoming TV documentary-cum-dramatisation where a thinly veiled accusation of murder will be aimed at Iles.

Our book concerns the fall-out from that and the effect it has on Harpur; his daughter's - one of whom, Hazel seems to have an infatuation with ACC Iles, which may have been inappropriately reciprocated at one time; Iles's pregnant wife, Sarah - who Harpur had an affair with previously and also a couple of local villains who's day to day activities are tolerated by Iles in a tacit policy of laissez-faire, Iles's overview being - better the devil you know in respect of criminality in the community.   

I took a while to warm to the book, mainly because of the author's narrative style which is fairly distinctive and instantly recognisable - it is if you've read him before of course. I wouldn't say he talks in riddles, but he demands that you pay careful attention to his words.

There's a fair bit of humour in the book and I get the impression the author had some fun writing it. At one point, Harpur meets a confidential informant at a secluded location and almost gets more than information. The back door of their car opens and a hopeful, randy stranger hops in full of anticipation for the three way tryst that is sure to follow. The fellow departs, nursing hurt feelings and wounded pride before getting reinvigorated by the stranger who drops into his own car.

There's some fun with the villains too. One of whom, Mansel Shale is rather rashly contemplating shooting the TV crew as a means of removing the threat to Iles. The other, Ralph Ember a nightclub owner and more, fancies himself as a Charlton Heston lookalike, back from the days when Charlton was a good looking chap (and not overly obsessed with polishing his gun collection). Self-obsessed and vain, Ralph lives in a cocoon, imagining that everyone he meets has the same regard and high opinion of him, that he holds for himself. He is slightly more rational than Shale, but it's a close run thing.

Family conferences, nightclub visits, Bastille Day, a TV programme, bad publicity, Home Office concern and involvement, a dead undercover officer, two dead acquitted suspects,a shooting, a garroting, an agitating brother, a nightclub riot, a concerned wife, some anxious villains, Charlton Heston, a concocted plan, a temporarily missing daughter, a trip to London, a decorating contract, a surveillance operation, an unexpected occurrence and a return to normality.   

Once I got into this, I really enjoyed it. There's an ambiguity about the conclusion that worked well for me, a sort of did he, didn't he that's unresolved. It's not something I usually enjoy but here it makes sense.

I liked the participants, the premise, the humour and the pace. I really need to cut down on the new books and concentrate on reading more from the existing stockpile, including Bill James. Maybe I'll get a couple of these read before number 36 drops.

4.5 from 5

Noose, a standalone from Bill James was enjoyed back in September, 2013. I hadn't realised it was quite so long since I read him.

Read - March, 2019
Published - 2019
Page count - 188
Source - Net Galley, courtesy of Severn House publisher
Format - ePub read on laptop

13 comments:

  1. Col, I visited the biannual Books by Weight exhibition in my neck of the woods over the weekend and resisted the urge to pick up crime and thriller novels that appeared similar to the one you reviewed. Though the authors were new to me, the covers and titles appealed to me. It's a tough choice.

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    1. I saw that you had picked up some Oliver Strange books, Prashant. Your self control when confronted with a plethora of books is admirable!

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    2. No self-control this year, Col. I bought quite a few books already and that includes six nonfiction with my company's books allowance. I'm most excited with the Suddens, though, especially since it's my favourite western series and the Corgi novels are hard to come by in Bombay.

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    3. I think you do well with your book buying habits. I'm sure you will enjoy your haul, Prashant

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  2. This is one author, Col, whom I've heard of, but have yet to try. This one sounds like a good read, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think if I explore his work, I may try to start at the beginning.

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    1. I think you might find that this is one author where our tastes collide, Margot. I'll be keen to find out what you think if you do try his work.

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  3. I am in the same situation, Col. I read the first two books, and have a few more and intended to read them, but 35 books! That is a long series.

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    1. I only know of two longer, Tracy. The 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain and the Nameless series by Bill Pronzini. I've not started the McBain's and I've stalled on Nameless at about #12 or 13. I ought to get back to one and start the other

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  4. This one has an irresistible title, Col.

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    1. I'd be curious to see what you might make of Bill James and his work, Elgin.

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  5. That IS a great title. I'm sure I have dabbled in this series in the past, and this sounds like a great plot.

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    1. I took a while to warm to it, but really enjoyed it as it went on. I must read more from him.

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