Full disclosure: DCS Colin Harpur and Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles’ 31st case contains very little Harpur and not much more Iles.
Instead, James (Play Dead, 2013, etc.) finds Ralph W. Ember, a crook who’s been at the game so long he’s a local institution, and ACC Esther Davidson, both reminiscing about the decades-old Mondial-Trave incident that went a long way toward making them both what they are. Having recently thrown in his lot with the Pasque Uno drug firm, Ralph is one of four men sent to reconnoiter Mondial Street and Trave Square, the capital of an area whose jurisdiction is disputed by the rival Opal Render. Distracted and bullied by Pasque Uno’s Quentin Stayley, who keeps referring to him—as many later associates will—as Panicking Ralph, he decides he’d better return to the place on his own for another look. This time he spots Esther, who’s been tipped off about the coming battle and plans to introduce some armed officers from the Met to alter its course to her own ends. After wrestling manfully with his conscience about what to tell whom, Ralph reports his discovery to Pasque Uno leader Dale "Gladhand" Hoskins. His warnings are brushed off, and bloodshed ensues. Most writers would limit this Kabuki flashback to the opening chapter or two; James allows it three-quarters of his tale, with a scant 50 pages devoted to Harpur and Iles’ present-day attempt to close the books on the incident for good.
Not much more plot than a guide to Zen, but dozens of wonderfully precise passages distinguishing merely philistine lawbreakers like Stayley (“Il y a des lacunes, as the French would say”) from truly clueless hopefuls like Panicking Ralph (“he thought the people he was with…would be familiar with the lagoons”).