Review of WOLVES OF MEMORY by Bill James
A HARPUR & ILES MYSTERY
W. W. Norton & Company, July 2006
Nobody much likes informants. Other criminals hate them--indeed, their only perscription is death. While the police rely on informants for a huge share of their convictions, even they don't really like them. Still, when a young criminal decides to protect himself by informing on the car robbery he's involved in, and manages to put a long-sought criminal behind bars, he and his family are given new identities and whisked away to the not-so-tender mercies of Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles and Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur. With a police psychologist to help them overcome their identity issues, Harpur and Iles are to provide safety and any other needed help.
Transforming from respected thief Ian Ballion to salesman Robert Templeton doesn't sound difficult. But Ian/Robert finds it horribly painful. He never meant for his informing to result in arrests--he'd merely intended to break up a robbery plan that was clearly doomed without having to actually go back on his agreement to participate in it. He continually rehearses possible approaches to the mob boss whose son is now in jail as a result of Ian/Robert's testimony. He knows the mob is not forgiving of informants, but he still fantasizes about being welcomed back into their arms, his mistakes forgiven, even appreciated.
ACC Iles and DCS Harpur recognize that the Ian memories will cause problems--will, in fact, be the critical issue in the transformation of Ian/Robert's identity. Yet their own ability to work together and to be effective in this case is hampered by Iles's continued anger at Harpur for a long-ago affair between Harpur and Iles's wife, and by Iles's attraction to Ian/Robert's wife (now Jane).
Author Bill James (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of mysteries by James) continues his exploration into the lives and police-work of Harpur, Iles, and their associates. James's writing, especially his dialogue, is fascinating. Neither Harpur nor Iles ever seems to respond to the other's comments, but always to the subtext, to the thoughts behind them, as if they could read one another's thoughts, no matter how unsavory they were. Indeed, the lack of secrets, whether on the part of the police or on the part of the criminals, is a recurring theme in the Harpur & Iles series.
Despite, or perhaps because of Iles's near-insanity, his police methods do (usually, and by some definitions) work. Yet Ian/Robert's misguided belief that he can somehow escape his status as an informant, be welcomed back into the criminal brotherhood is so destructive there seens no way out of it. Because of Iles's near-insanity, Harpur can't even explain the dangerous steps he's taken that might further unravel Iles's carefully laid out plans
WOLVES OF MEMORY is probably not the best place for new readers in the Harpur & Iles series to start. Too much of the story is tied up in the established relationship between these two men. For fans of the series (like me), however, WOLVES is a powerful addition, letting us look into the souls of two damaged men as they continue their attempts to work together. As with the other books in the series, James's dark humor is everywhere, and the reader is left knowing that he's been exposed to secrets that would really better be kept secret.
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