Bill James

Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles and Detective Chief Superintendent Colin Harpur -England

"Wolves of Memory"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple AUG 26, 2006)

"Did [people] know how Iles grief-raved about his wife, hate-raved at his two main aides, then went smoochy about them, and then switched back to hate?  Schizo?  The bugger felt forced to deny he wanted them both dead—an Assistant Chief Constable, for God's sake, an ASSISTANT CHIEF CONSTABLE out in Nowheresville decides he must deny ever considering the murder of two colleagues."

Wolves of Memory by Bill James

The London police world of Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles and Deputy Constable Colin Harpur is in constant turmoil, and not just because of the job. Des Iles is a borderline psychotic, a man who twists the law, ignores it, or imposes his own law and punishment without batting an eyelash. Harpur, the single father of two adolescent children, is both his assistant and his curse, since Harpur once had an affair with Iles's wife, and Iles, a man described as "one of the world's routine cruelties," has never let him or anyone else forget it.

Harpur and Iles have been assigned to provide protection and new identities for Ian Ballion, his wife, and two children, after a planned robbery of cash-in-transit from Africa to England goes awry. Ballion, scheduled to participate in the robbery, had "grassed," expecting the police to intercept the cash before the robbers reached it, thereby avoiding violence and almost certain arrest for the participants. The police, however, reneged, grabbing not only the cash but also the potential robbers, arresting all but Ballion, who was allowed to escape. The ringleader for this job, the son of London's biggest crime lord, and two accomplices have received long jail sentences, and the lives of Ballion and his family are threatened by the enraged crime boss.

With the Ballions in hiding, a police psychologist counsels and instructs them, believing that the Ballions can become "unstuck from yesterday" by creating new memories, which will push old memories out of their consciousness.  They practice their new name (Templedon), try out their new identities, and try to become wholly new people. In the meantime, however, Ian Ballion longs to return to his "family" in the criminal underworld, finding it preferable to being a police "grass."  His wife hates Iles's leering advances toward her and tries to avoid him, and his children arouse neighborhood suspicion by constantly repeating their new names and prepared stories. Protecting the family becomes increasingly difficult for Harper and Iles as the family's acceptance of their new identities proves more difficult than they expected.

This often hilarious novel is told through wry, tongue-in-cheek repartee, conversations, and internal monologues as the various characters go about their daily lives. Their constantly skewed observations, inability to see ironies, and practice of one-upsmanship lead to confrontations in which the characters are frequently talking and acting at cross-purposes, while the reader chuckles in amusement.  The sympathetic characterization of the children, caught in identity crises not of their own making, adds depth to the well-developed issues of identity and memory, and the author's casual inclusion of references to poet Walter de la Mare, Matthew Arnold, Joseph Conrad, Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, and the Bible create a literary overlay to the humor.

Though there is little dramatic action and even less description here, lovers of black humor, irony, and absurdity will admire James's wacky characters, off-the-wall repartee, insights into character, and thematic development.  The latest in James's series featuring Harpur and Iles, the novel moves quickly, showcasing two detectives who are arguably the most unusual duo in modern detective fiction.   

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

Harpur and Iles Series:

Simon Abelard of British Intelligence Series:

Stand-alone fiction:

Writing as David Craig:

Det. Constable Sally Bithron series:

Writing as James Tucker:

  • Equal Partners (1960)
  • The Right-Hand Man (1961)
  • Burster (1966)
  • Blaze of Riot (1979)
  • The King's Friends (1982)


  • Honourable Estates (1966)
  • The Novels of Anthony Powell (1976)


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Bill JamesBill James was born in 1929 and is a native of South Wales. He is a former journalist who worked for the Western Mail and South Wales Echo, The Daily Mirror and the Sunday Times. He is the author of eighteen crime novels in the Harpur and Iles series, which are published all over the world. Protection, the fourth in the series, was televised by BBC 1 as Harpur & Iles, starring Hywel Bennett.

James also writes under the name David Craig, most recently a series set around Cardiff docks, where he grew up. The Warner Brothers film, The Squeeze, with Stacy Keach, Edward Fox and Carol White was adapted from the David Craig novel, Whose Little Girl Are You?

He married Marian Roberta Craig in 1954 and they have three sons and one daugther. He has been a part-time tutor in creative writing at the University of Wales, Cardiff since 1968. He lives in Cardiff. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014