cover image Top Banana

Top Banana

Bill James. W. W. Norton & Company, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04718-9

Here's good news for James's fans: Norton seems to be publishing the author's British backlist at an ever-increasing pace. Six months after the appearance of his Roses, Roses, a PW Best Book of 1998 (originally published in Britain in 1993), comes a marvelously mordant mystery (released in Britain in 1996) also featuring Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur, who's now trying to prevent the ""venomous dandy"" Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles, his superior, from destroying Chief Constable Mark Lane. The fallout begins when a 13-year-old girl is inadvertently killed while acting as a drug courier. Iles wants to curtail drug-related crime by making a treaty with the top dealers, especially Mansel Shale (whom James invests with brilliant dialogue that suggests a mating of Damon Runyon and Harold Pinter: ""I would not like to be talking to any child of mine if I thought he had bullets in him""). Lane won't consider such an unholy alliance, and orders a dangerous mission to infiltrate Shale's operation. Harpur juggles his loyalties to his superiors while also trying to be a caring father to his two teenage daughters, still recovering from the murder of their mother. Matters grow even more complicated when Harpur discovers that Mandy's death may not have been so accidental. This novel's exceptionally strong prose seals James's reputation as one of the finest stylists in the genre--and his wholly involving characters and plotting stamp the seal tight. (Feb.) FYI: Bill James is a pseudonym for James Tucker, who also writes as David Craig.