Pix, by Bill James

December 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)

Yes, okay, I really do love the wild and crazy guy of British crime fiction! Where else does the reader encounter a dead body on the stairs of a renovated rectory, currently lived in by one Mansel Shale, an expansive and devoted family man (among other things). I know that I’ve categorized Pix as a police procedural – perhaps, it should more properly be termed a villain procedural!

I do so enjoy being in this dark, perverse and perversely hilarious world, where values are turned on their collective heads and given a thorough shaking for good measure.

Here’s the opening sentence of Pix:

‘When Mansel Shale looked into his personal soul – and he did that now and then, though not making a big thing out of it, for God’s sake – yes, when he looked into his personal soul he saw that the main reason he ran a business was so he could use the good profits to buy good art. Manse liked  the neatness and the wholesomeness of this thought – good profits, good art.

There is just one problem with this exercise in magnanimous self-satisfaction: Mansel Shale is a high end drug dealer.

It’s true, though, that a goodly portion of his profits go toward the purchase of fine paintings. He is particularly enamored of the Pre-Raphaelites. One of his favorites, a work by Arthur Hughes, has until recently held a place of honor in the rectory: directly over a wall safe which housed a weapons cache consisting of several Heckler and Koch 9 mm pistols plus ammunition.

At any rate, Manse Shale returns to the rectory one day after a round of golf to find that the Hughes and all his other precious art works have vanished from the rectory walls. And there is worse to come, when he gets to the staircase…

It is really hard to convey adequately the wacky, manic flavor of these books. And I admit, they’re not for everyone. For one thing, they contain a fair amount of profanity, something that ordinarily annoys me greatly, but in this case does not – it is so much a part of the furnishing of this strange world, in which the conduct of the police officers is only a shade less outrageous than that of the criminals.

Pix is the twenty-fifth entry in the Harpur & Iles series. I’ve read about twenty of them. Ths is a series that is best read  in chronological order, though I myself have cheerfully disregarded that advice on several occasions. (Previously on this blog –  and thanks to the folks at Desperate Housewives for that locution! – I’ve reviewed Girls, Wolves of Memory, and The Girl with the Long Back.)

I like this piece on the Harpur and Iles novels. And last year, D.G. Myers wrote with his usual eloquence about the brilliance of The Lolita Man, relating to what he perceived as a disturbing trend in modern life.

Finally, dated June of 2009, here’s a lively interview with Bill James on Detectives Beyond Borders.


Behind this innocuous pseudonym lie two more pseudonyms: David Craig and Allan Tucker. Real name: James Allan Tucker: author, no less, of a biography of Anthony Powell, who wrote a classic cycle of novels that I’m most desirous of reading some day: .

Bill James

Bill James

It’s pretty tricky trying to find information and/or visuals due to that same bland pseudonym. It must be assumed that  the highly inventive creator of the Harpur & Iles series dwells contentedly somewhere in deepest Wales and is not especially worried about his own elusiveness.  That’s fine, Mr. James/Craig/Tucker – just keep those terrific books coming!

(Some basic facts concerning the life and work of Bill James can be found on the Gale Database Biography Resource Center.)

1 Comment

  1. Peter said,

    Hmmm, WordPress appears to be eating posts, as it sometimes does. I wanted to say thanks for linking to my interview with Bill James, and thanks for providing what look like some interesting links of your own. Its always good to find readers who enjoy Bill James.

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