IN GOOD HANDS by Bill James
A HARPUR & ILES MYSTERY
W. W. Norton & Company, 1994/2000 (U.S.)
The police department in a mid-sized British town is racked with the conflict between Chief Mark Lane and Assistant Chief Constable Ives. Ives may be the best policeman on the force, but rumors have it that he has stepped far over the bounds, taking justice into his own hands when two police-killing criminals are found not guilty by the courts. Lane demands that Deputy Chief Superintendent Harpur find something on Ives--something that will force him into retirement.
A second set of murders throws additional suspicion on Ives and also threatens the caper planned by Stan Stanfield. Catching wind of Stanfield's plans, Harpur looks for a solution that will create a form of rough justice.
This search for rough justice underlies Bill James' novel. In many ways, police and criminal society mimic one another from the internal power struggles down to the fixation on underage lovers. Both criminals and the police look to signs for the meaning of the murders, rather than for clues to the actual events.
Using a deft mix of cynicism and humor, James hammers home both the similarities between criminal and cop, and the essential differences. Harpur and Iles may bend the law or even break it, but they do so in their search for rough justice. In contrast, the criminals seek only to serve themselves. Only Mark Lane, who has lost track of the fundamental objectives and seeks legalistic purity is portrayed unsympathetically. Readers may find IN GOOD HANDS disturbing. Certainly it is far from the black-hat/white-hat approach. Disturbing or not, it is a powerfully rendered view of policemen overwhelmed by the evil they fight, yet battling on.
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