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    Review of EASY STREETS by Bill James


    W. W. Norton & Company, 2004 (U.S. publication July 2005)

    Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles has maintained a weird balance of enforcement and tolerance in his English city. Drug lords Ralph Embers and Manse Shale divide up the profits and minimize violence in exchange for the police looking the other way. But a change in policy, with the government officially relaxing its attitude toward drugs, means that prices tumble. And with falling prices, the drug alliances are shattered. There simply isn't enough profit to sustain everyone.

    From the street level up to the top of the chain, dealers look for the chance to consolidate, to achieve monopoly. Iles watches his long-time policy shatter into violence and, to Detective Chief Superintendent Harpur, at least, Iles seems to fall into the uncomfortable position long held by their former boss, Mark Lane. Iles begins to see symbols in every act.

    'Panicking Ralph' Embers has had a profitable relationship with Manse Shale, but when Shale's lieutenant offers to kill Shale and work for Embers, the temptation is hard to turn down. Especially when Shale embarrasses himself with a flip-chart presentation. Meanwhile, Harpur virtually stumbles over a gunfight--and can't persuade anyone that it wasn't a setup from the start.

    As with every Harpur and Iles story, there's more going on than author Bill James (see more reviews of novels by James) reveals. Did Iles set up the murders in an attempt to persuade the government that their policy is flawed? Was the red Audi part of a police hit? Is Iles angling for a cut of the drug money with his retirement? Iles remains the spider at the center of a web that stretches into the unseen.

    Author Bill James (see more reviews of novels by James) offers a dark and cynical view of policing. The line between good and evil, police and criminal, blurs to the point of invisibility. The dialogue between criminals, between Harpur and Iles, and between criminals and cops is filled with misdirection, with answering questions not asked, and with unexpected turns. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but the story is far from funny.

    EASY STREETS is a very strong addition to the fascinating Harpur & Iles series.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/25/05

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