Rumors of Chief Constable Mark Lane’s promotion to Inspector of Constabulary sets the stage for another round of James’s patented cutthroat capitalism.
The London drug trade is a delicately balanced business whose stability depends on Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles’s doctrine: “controlled trading in exchange for urban tranquillity.” The promise of a new Chief means that Iles’s power to keep the peace by cutting deals will most likely be pruned—and that spells fireworks for stalwart druglords Ralph Ember and Mansel Shade and upstart Ferdinand Dubal. The theory may sound recondite, but everybody’s heard it, from Louise Machin, who’s gone undercover in Ferdy’s gang, to the schoolmates of Chief Inspector Colin Harpur’s daughters, and everybody’s waiting for answering violence after a pair of Dubal enforcers are executed and one of Iles’s favorite informants is run over three times, just to make sure. It isn’t long in coming. One of the druglords is run over three times himself, and Panicking Ralph, in between rounds of his sublimely bourgeois blather (“Seemliness is one of my basic things,” he tells an aspiring henchman), is roped into a scheme to eliminate the other survivor, though fans of the long-running series (Naked at the Window, 2002, etc.) can be sure the course of true death never will run smooth.
A manner as stylized as Restoration comedy sacrifices momentum to ritual, making every delectable conversation a set piece worth the price of admission.