Cover image for Eton crop
Eton crop
James, Bill, 1929-
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Foul Play Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
284 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
"First published 1999 by Macmillan"--T.p. verso.
Geographic Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the latest gripping Harpur Iles mystery, the London syndicate tries to take over a choiceoperation, setting off a murderous rivalry withthe local drug lords-and a fierce policy waramong the police.

Author Notes

Bill James lives in Wales.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

James' latest Harpur and Iles mystery displays the dark comedic moments, keen psychological insights, and taut plotting that have made this series so satisfying. Harpur and Iles' superior, Chief Lane, never a strong leader and always verging on nervous collapse, is terrified that the recent attempt by major muscle from London to take over the local drug market will result in an all-out war that will discredit him or, worse, send him over the edge. Harpur and Iles are torn between their desire to protect the chief and their fear that the chief's plan--to send policewoman Naomi Anstruther undercover to gather information--will result in disaster. They opt for supporting the chief, but when the London interlopers murder a local drug dealer, a gang war breaks out, bringing tragic consequences for everyone involved. A gripping installment in a superior series. --Emily Melton

Publisher's Weekly Review

In its last half-dozen titles, James's Harpur and Iles series has turned darker, concentrating on drug-related murders and betrayals. When an undercover officer named Raymond Street was killed several books ago, Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles took it very badly: blaming Chief Constable Mark Lane's uncompromising policies, he started a scorched earth campaign to push Lane into early retirement or the loony bin. In this 16th entry in this bleakly inventive series (after Lovely Mover, Forecasts, May 3), both ends seem imminent. "The Chief was noble and doomed, cripplingly fractured and toweringly honorable," writes James. "The evil was too much for him. The job had grown too much for him. Iles was too much for him." It's up to the burly, recently widowed Detective Chief Inspector Colin Harpur to try to save Lane's sanity by inserting another undercover cop, tough and ambitious Naomi Anstruther, into a drug operation run by former rivals who are joined in an uneasy alliance against the encroachments of a heavyweight London mob intent on making a floating restaurant (and popular upper-class drug-buying venue) called "The Eton Boating Song" its first local victory. Protecting Lane from the brilliant and vengeful Iles, shielding Naomi from the rival drug dealers and also from a particularly dangerous police psychiatrist, Harpur once again becomes a shaky, then ultimately sturdy tower of strength. Although each book in the series, which is set in a nameless city north of London, stands on its own, they all add up to a stunning history of how crime has changed the fabric and character of British society. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Iles said: `Harpur's going to tell you about a lad called Raymond Street.'     `I've heard of Street,' she said. `His death.'     Iles stayed silent a moment. Then he said: `I dare say. Everyone has. But I want Harpur to run through it with you. A Detective Chief Superintendent has resonance.'     `Why don't you run through it, Mr Iles?' she asked. `An Assistant Chief has even more.'     `I don't talk about Ray Street,' Iles replied.     `So you order others to talk about him.'     With a cheery lilt, Iles said: `One thing you'll find, Naomi, is I don't react to insurbordination, even from a woman officer in your rank. Do I give a shit for hierarchy?' The lilt faltered slightly and his voice edged towards a gull scream. `What did hierarchy ever do for me? I'm stuck here as Assistant to a ... to a ...' The volume fell from scream to tortured whisper. `Well, leave that. Ask Harpur if I give a shit for hierarchy. Do I give a shit for hierarchy, Harpur?'     Iles liked replies to his questions, especially when to do with his essence. Harpur said: `The crucial point, Naomi, is never to use so much stuff when you're with them that you get clouded. You'll have to use some , for credibility. But under control. It's hellishly difficult -- the balance.'     `That what happened to Raymond Street?' she asked. `He started using too much? Forgot where he was? Forgot who he was supposed to be? Wham.'     `The stress can be big,' Harpur replied.     Iles said: `As a matter of fact, I do talk about Ray. I talk about him to the Chief. Whenever Mr Lane wants to put someone into a drugs gang undercover I remind him of what happened to Detective Constable Street. Harpur can confirm this, can't you, Col?'     Harpur said: `Infiltration of this sort, the key is to take it very slowly, Naomi. Always an eye on the exit.'     Iles said: `So, you'll ask why are we putting you into a gang if I fight the proposal every time the Chief makes it.'     Naomi said: `So, why are you putting me into a gang if you fight the proposal every time the Chief makes it?'     `You don't have to go,' Iles replied. `This work's only for volunteers.'     Harpur said: `You come out at the least sign of suspicion from them. Ditch everything -- money, clothes, the commodity, no matter how much. We'll give you a full eject drill.'     Iles said: `If their behaviour changes towards you one day -- more friendly, less friendly -- get out at once. Especially more friendly.'     `Did Street hang on?' she asked.     `Street was a great detective,' Iles replied. `Beyond Harpur's range.'     `Beyond yours , sir?' Naomi asked the ACC.     `Yes, he hung on too long,' Harpur said.     `The general view is you subsequently killed the people who killed Street, Mr Iles,' Naomi remarked. `Unproveably, of course. You're an ACC, for heaven's sake, know how to shape things. When I say "general view" naturally I refer to a confidential general view within our game.'     Iles looked suddenly enraged. The skin of his face seemed to coarsen and his chin grew witchlike and militant. None of it would spring from what Naomi had said: in fact, to be accused of avenging Street and getting away with it through professional flair was sure to delight him. No, this degree of anger in the ACC could only be caused by discovery or rediscovery of some blemish in his appearance. He had been stroking his neck appreciatively while the three of them talked and his fingers eventually came upon his adam's apple. This part of his body always infuriated the ACC. He had once told Harpur it was unforgivable in a Creative Force to produce the muted loveliness of his slender neck and then deform it with `this farcical adjunct'.     Naomi misread the cause of change in him. `I'm sorry, sir,' she said. `Tactless.'     She was sitting legs uncrossed opposite the ACC in Harpur's room, and Iles stared intelligently into the tidy V of her jeans. `Oh, those alleged executions of villains. Women insist on enhancing me by gorgeous myth, Naomi,' he replied. `I don't begrudge. It brings them a little tremor and moisture, I've learned.' He half stood in his chair so he could check in the mirror that this neck thing was really outrageously there, and as foully un-Iles-like as it felt. He gazed briefly, then resumed his seat. `But, yes, courts are a problem. Their little fussinesses and fairnesses get in the way of ... of what's right ... of what has to be done. And then there's the Chief, tragically weakened by rectitude. I grieve for him, the prim saint.'     `Naomi, I've been undercover myself,' Harpur said. `And --'     `It's true,' Iles said. `All right, you'll ask how the hell -- because Col's face, his body, the haircut, his tirelessly envious eyes all proclaim cop. But somehow he did manage it, I swear. A less grubby character background and he'd have picked up the Queen's Police Medal.'     Harpur said: `Naomi, once you're installed, besides pacing yourself, doing everything slowly, so slowly, the other essential is to drop more or less everything of your previous life. That means, mainly, you never go to where you're living now. And don't come anywhere near this building either. Not even if you're quitting your role at a rush and think you need help.'     `Harpur will let you know some rescue points. To be memorized. We'll have a posse there, or the means to one fast. We've improved after Ray Street. I wouldn't mind if you ran to my house. It's called Idylls in Rougement Place.'     `I don't think so, sir,' Harpur said.     Iles turned abruptly away from Naomi's trousers and gave one of those smiles at Harpur, an Iles smile, not mellow or wry or fully human: `But I'm sure it would be all right for her to run to your dim place in that dog-turd road, wouldn't it, you crate of lech, Col? You've been lining this one up for an age, haven't you? What's your student bird going to make of that, then -- Naomi panting at your door around three a.m., whispering your name, requiring succour? Yes, succour.' He exercised his lips.     ` Idylls? ' she asked.     `It's a big meaty poem from another time,' Harpur said. `Mr Iles told me the full title is Idylls of the King , but he loathes advertising.'     `Drop all my previous life?' she said. `Does that mean--?'     `Ideally it would entail cutting adrift from your boyfrien--from your partner, for the whole period of undercover,' Harpur replied. `But, realistically, we--'     `We've done some profile work on him,' Iles said.     `You've fucking what?' Naomi yelled. `He's a private citizen, without any--'     `We know what's reasonable, what's possible,' Harpur said.     `Did Street have a love life?' she asked.     `Your chum seems a sensible enough sort,' Iles said.     `Some meetings with him should be all right,' Harpur said. `Not at your own place, naturally.'     `Harpur will fix spots.'     `Will he be in bed with us?' Naomi asked.     `This is a lad named Donald McWater, yes?' Iles replied. `I never used to go much on the Scotch -- those hellish noses raw from the cold -- but this Trainspotting fellow seems to get a nicer angle on them. Your friend, twenty-six, a supermarket undermanager? I went and had a look at him at work. It's important to get the rounded picture. Harpur will arrange meetings for the two of you in Donald's holiday times or even his days off. We've got a proposal about that relating to the next few weeks, as a matter of fact. I say Donald is sensible enough, but is he sensible enough to know he should be sensible enough not to ask why the switch in lifestyle, and not to come poking about, looking for you? That's potentially awkward.'     `Naomi will tell him she's on the Special Branch course and can't leave the college for long at a spell, sir.'     `We'll owe you promotion at the end, Anstruther,' Iles said. `Done the exams -- all that jibberish?' He gave his longish, quiffed grey hair a flick back with one finger. Iles had abandoned the en brosse style he favoured for a while after a season of Jean Gabin films.     Naomi asked: `Would Street have been promoted if ...? What I mean is, Mr Iles, you said he was a great detective.'     `I regard the slaughter of the two people who killed him as an act of God or of someone in that ballpark,' Iles replied.     Harpur said, "I'm your contact, Naomi. Your only contact. We'll have our private communications system. You'll get a new name, of course. We'll open a bank account in this identity for you and keep it stocked. This is extra money to your pay. Don't go to your own bank, ever. They have tipsters working in banks, and you don't want your face linked with the monthly police cheque. You carry no documents of any kind in the name of Naomi Anstruther, especially not a warrant card. Make sure none of your clothes have identity labels.'     `So, did Street have a love life?' Naomi replied. `This was something else that messed him up?'     `Hotels, travel for you and McWater, we'll pay the lot,' Iles replied.     `We'd like you to go out of circulation now,' Harpur said. `Take an immediate holiday somewhere for a fortnight. Can he go with you? Abroad, whatever you like. And then come back eventually to an address I'll give you down the Valencia district. After your break, you get a concentrated course at Hilston Manor in detailed undercover skills, not just the outline we've discussed now. That's another advance since Street. You'll meet some expert people. Psychologists, the lot.'     Iles said, `Col's such an expert himself, as I mentioned.'     `Hilston will want to see us together at some stage,' Harpur replied.     `You'll be in good hands, Naomi.'     `Don't get obsessed by the shadow of Ray Street,' Harpur said. `Just be temperate, whatever it is -- crack, coke, horse. Make a modest show. Remember, some pushers don't use any product at all. Your cover doesn't require you to be forever high.'     `Street was?' she asked.     Iles said: `Do you know how to be temperate, Naomi? You came right off, yes? I gather you used a bit before you joined the service. How did you fool the buggers at selection? But that's good -- shows nice duplicity. We need that. Can you go back and keep limits? Can you sniff small?'     `I've been practising,' she replied.     `Harpur bought you the stuff?'     `Nice little trips, but I stayed compos,' she replied.     `Col, put it on your expenses as "lost wagers in greyhound corruption case",' Iles said. `Now, are you going to tell her the full tale about Street?'     `No, I don't think so, sir,' Harpur replied. Copyright © 1999 Bill James. All rights reserved.