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    Review of NAKED AT THE WINDOW by Bill James


    W.W. Norton & Company, 2002

    Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles strategy of generating peace on the streets by ignoring the local drug traffickers has worked--to a point. Panicking Ralph Ember has done well for himself managing the trade while sending his daughters to the best schools. When Ralph's partner, Beau Derek, is murdered by dealers looking to increase their share of the trade, Ralph has a choice--should he go along, or make his own play for the top spot. Either way, Iles's plan will be disrupted and, as usual, Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur will pay the price.

    This intriguing mystery focusses largely on Ralph as he deals with his wife's desertion, the loss of his partner, and his pretenses at class. Ralph makes an fascinating character--almost sympathetic despite his complete lack of morals about sex, murder, or drugs.

    The lack of moral clarity, and the underlying similarity between the police and the criminals in this large unnamed English city is an ongoing theme in author Bill James's Harpur & Iles series (see more reviews of novels by Bill James). Police and criminals both know the most intimate details about each other, their lives, and their (often shared) vices.

    James's writing is full of funny twists and witty dialogue, but the humor overlies a fundamentally tragic sense. The drug war is doomed. Accommodation with evil is ultimately necessary--and Police Chief Mark Lane's idealism finally loses to Iles brutal pragmatism--but even Iles, insane as he is, must mourn the loss of innocence.

    The Harpur & Iles series is an ongoing story--with the rise of Panicking Ralph a key part, but each book can be read and savored independently.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 2/02/03

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