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    Review of TAKE by Bill James


    Foul Play Press, 1990

    Ron "Planner" Preston likes a nicely controlled job. He's made his criminal career out of arranging medium-sized heists, and making sure there's no danger. Inside information about a payroll lets him think he's got another perfect fit--and he lines up the muscle he needs to make it happen. But when the armored car company adds another man, and two more deliveries, all of a sudden, the job seems a little too much big-time. Still, Preston has a wife, a daughter, a mistress and another child who need taking care of--and then there's the young actress from 'Annie Get Your Gun.' Dare he risk a bigger job, the biggest of his criminal career? Or should he back down, and risk being thought as past it?

    Detective Colin Harpur has a feeling something is coming down, but his usual source is more worried about a missing girl than any big jobs. Still, a possibly bent cop is asking questions, seemingly ascertaining that the cops aren't looking. And Harpur wants to make sure that the cops will be looking at the right time. With occasional help and general hinderance from his boss, Assistant Chief Iles, Harpur tries to put logic and intuition on the line in a world where the criminals hold the cards and get to make the first play.

    As in all of his Harpur and Iles series, author Bill James (see more reviews of novels by James) provides a dark view of policing. The moral distinctions between cop and criminal are occasionally hard to see, with Harpur continuing an affair with the wife of one of his own cops and Iles prepared to destroy anyone who gets in his way and fixated on whether his wife might end her own affair now that she is pregnant.

    The aging criminal Ron Preston is clearly the most sympathetic character in the story--as he rationalizes his sexual outlets and his criminal activities, does his best to be a good family man, and encourages his fellow criminals to help support his wife's amateur theater works (where his wife acts along with Harpur's children). The reader is intially torn between hoping that the heist will succeed and hoping that it can be stopped.

    In this early Harpur and Iles story, the humor is a little less dark, and the cynicism a little less hard-biting than in some of the more recent stories, but the seeds are definitely planted. TAKE is not the best in this series, but it is an interesting and thought-provoking read. As is usual in James's stories, TAKE warrents a bit of extra time and thought--there's more here than might show with a fast read-through.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 9/16/05

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