“Various” is what Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles says people are. His right-hand man, Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur, is disinclined to argue, though in reference to his boss he finds other adjectives more precise: “arrogant,” “sexually avid,” and “selectively loyal,” for instance. Of course, he acknowledges, these could all apply equally to himself. So it’s time for more moral ambiguities as James (Double Jeopardy, p. 619, etc.) begins the 19th in the mordantly witty series starring Harpur and Iles (Pay Days, 2001, etc.) in fine antiheroic form. But it’s not quite business as usual, given the difficulties under which Ralph Ember is suddenly forced to labor, difficulties that clearly “threaten tranquility in the streets.” Drug boss Ralph—faithful correspondent to the Times, noted fan of continuing education—is as various as they come, but what matters to Harpur and Iles is that he cooperates fully in keeping the trade discreet. Now, however, violent thugs from neighboring London threaten to disrupt a fragile status quo at a time when cutbacks have reduced the thin blue line to the point of emaciation. H & I see prison in Ralphie’s future, but that’s long-range planning. At the moment they stand ready to rally to his side for the sake of the greater good. Turns out they’re not needed because Panicking Ralph (a nickname he’s certainly earned) performs as usual: he panics, rebounds, copes, then lands on his richly shod feet.
Endlessly cynical, yet with their own inviolate sense of integrity, Harpur & Iles are as various as Tony Soprano.