Now that Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur’s wife has been murdered (Roses, Roses, 1998) and his affair with his boss Desmond Iles’s wife Sarah has slowed to the occasional bit of slap and tickle, it’s time for the younger generation to have their moment in the sun. Thirteen-year-old Mandy Walsh’s moment comes when she’s gunned down in a crossfire and the police discover she was a drug courier. Chief Constable Mark Lane, despondent over this latest illustration of the decline of the west, is determined, against the advice of hard-bitten Harpur and Iles, to infiltrate the gang that was using Mandy’s expert services. But the Chief doesn’t know that an infiltrator is already in place: a bent copper working as an informant for Lane’s opposite number, local druglord Mansel Shale. Nor does Lane know that Shale is in his own way as idealistically melancholy as the man who considers him the quintessence of evil. As the CID officers debate their best hope for stemming the rising tide of chaos, Shale and his sidekick Alfie Ivis, in a series of unwitting but alarmingly accurate parodies of Lane’s platitudes, natter earnestly about the need for an accommodation that will stem the rising tide of violence and restore the drug trade to the gentlemanly equilibrium Shale remembers with such nostalgia. Never before in Harpur and Iles’s previous ten cases has James so dazzlingly demonstrated the darkly comic interdependence of cops and crooks, or their central place in the mess of contemporary culture. For sheer nasty brilliance, this trenchant summary of his series is worthy to stand alongside Conrad’s The Secret Agent.