The most willfully playful installment yet in James’ increasingly playful saga of Harpur and Iles.
“This is a tale that will skip about a little as far as time is concerned,” warns the omniscient narrator during one of his many interruptions of what ought to be a straightforward investigation into the fatal shooting of private investigator Thomas Wells Hart. Actually, the narrator is being far too modest. In addition to quicksilver changes from present to past, there are even more frequent shifts in points of view. The dead man himself, in full knowledge of his impending demise, relates a good deal of the story, beginning with his seduction by Judith Vasonne, who taught Careers and Religious Studies in the school where he was a pupil, and proceeding to the ways he skulks his way into Righton Private Inquiries, then moves up the ladder until he accepts one assignment too many. As for DCI Colin Harpur and his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles (Disclosures, 2014, etc.), their baroque badinage, which never gets old, at least to them, seems to infect most of the cast, many of whom Harpur treats with some of the same baleful whimsy he once reserved for his superior. Whether he’s talking to stalwart informant Jack Lamb, who pretends he’s an art dealer, or Lamb’s mother, Alice, whose prison sentence for manslaughter doesn’t mean she doesn’t still have the best interests of her son at heart, Harpur not only affects the same heartless bonhomie he shares with Iles, but even shares confidences about his relation to his boss.
The often amusing, infallibly precious dialogue and self-reflexive asides will remind many readers of that other James, the one who wrote The Awkward Age, The Sacred Fount, and What Maisie Knew, without introducing a single homicide to trouble the waters.