THE DETECTIVE IS DEAD by Bill James
A HARPUR & ILES MYSTERY
W.W. Norton & Company, 1995 (First American Edition 2001)
When two killers go free because the Judge refuses to allow evidence against them, Assistant Chief Constable Ives declares that the detective is dead. From now on, British police will have to work from ambush rather than through the normal tools of informants and investigation. Detective Chief Superintendent Harpur isn't ready to go as far as Ives--he wants to protect his informant rather than set him up--but he shares the frustration. When both Harpur and Ives are frustrated, British criminals had better look after themselves.
Part of the Harpur and Ives mystery series (see also our review of IN GOOD HANDS, THE DETECTIVE IS DEAD combines insight into English criminal life, a realistic seeming view of policing, and moments of stark humor. After the death of the local drug mastermind, all of the local criminals are looking to move up the food chain. Keith Vine has turned informant to eliminate some of his competition, but now finds himself the target. Target or not, he plots to gather the money he needs for a major drug buy. Panicking Ralph leads a second group. Both fear that Ives himself will try to take over.
THE DETECTIVE IS DEAD moves between criminal and cop as each of the factions (and the police can be seen as merely one faction) battle for control of the city. Ives and Harpur always seem one step ahead of the criminals, but can they also stay a step ahead of the British Judiciary which is intent on closing down the type of policing the two men stand for?
Bill James (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by James) writes of the thin line between criminal and cop. Chief Mark Lane, the voice of decency in the department, is a figure of comedy for Ives--and for the reader. Harpur and Ives know what needs to be done to catch and punish the criminals and it isn't in the book. For me, the result is an almost guilty pleasure. Is Ives really as dirty as the criminals think? He certainly has some distressing habits (he likes his women young) and he spends more freely than his salary would seem to allow.
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