Bill James, . . Severn, $25.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7278-5824-5

The Bill James Book of the Month Club continues (last month's entry was Split, a valiant effort to revive the spy novel) with another worthy cause—a mystery about the way British police handle racially motivated crimes, which could have been, as they say, ripped from today's headlines. Botched prosecutions in at least two recent cases with black murder victims set the real-life tone and raise the fictional stakes, as a white female police officer watches her older detective lover being grilled by a commission of inquiry for his role in a case where two white men were acquitted in the killing of a young black American woman. Did detective constable Vic Othen cooperate in some sort of a coverup in the investigation into the murder of Angela Sabat? Vic's married ladyfriend, officer Kerry Lake, is certainly beginning to think so—and the arrival on the scene from Detroit of Angela's feisty mother threatens to blow the whole thing back into the media's greedy eye. Kerry and Mrs. Sabat make a formidable, touching team as they come from two different directions toward the truth. Some of the sharper edges of his highly praised Harpur and Iles police series are blurred here (perhaps by hasty writing), but James still has the sharpest ear for the smarminess of official language of anyone in the business. And only a master of oddly appropriate combinations of words could produce gems like, "This certainty chimed with the barmy grandeur of her ego, she would admit that." (June)

FYI:James's last Harpur and Iles mystery was Pay Days (Forecasts, June 25, 2001).