Thursday, April 21, 2011
24. You'd Better Believe It by Bill James
I picked this up purely on a whim during a nasty, rainy evening that drove me into the warm interior of S.W. Welch's. The depressing weather spurred my consumer appetite and I bought this book and one other (a nice penguin Hornblower) despite my spreading on-deck shelf. I was drawn in by the thinness of the books, the setting of criminal urban england and the hard prose. My instincts were not off as Bill James is an excellent discovery. It turns out he is quite well known and respected in the U.K. for his various series of "Welsh Noir", this one being the first in the best known, Harpur & Iles, of which there are 22 books!
In You'd Better Believe It, detective Harpur is the main protagonist, a frazzled, but driven cop whose personal morality is revealed to be questionable at best in the first pages as he is portrayed making a play for one of his subordinate's wife. The plot centers around a tip-off about a big bank robbery that is supposed to go down. The job is delayed and during the wait, big time players come into Harpur's smaller seaside city and start ruthlessly killing informants ("grasses" as they are known in this milieu) and a police officer (the previously mentioned subordinate). Caught between a bureaucratic and politically-nervous administration and a poverty-stricken society, Harpur has to act often on his own.
The story is decent, seemingly quite realistic, but without a lot of suspense. The milieu is top-notch, as is the language. This is the hard, ruthless Britain where human culture is limited to dark humour, alchohol and a few good boots in. It's funny, because the plot and procedural elements were not dissimilar to the world of de Gier and Grijpstra, but the cultural level was just so different. Let's just say that I would much prefer to be a police detective in van der Wetering's Amsterdam than James' fictional Wales.
A great find. From what I've read, this series gets richer and I'm looking forward to seeing that happen. Though my on-deck shelf doesn't!