Even knowing this, James’ third entry Halo Parade (1987) packs a cynical punch so fierce that it takes the reader’s breath away. More accurately, it offers several punches, including a barrage of blows upon Harpur's body by a group of off-duty police wearing Balaclava masks intent on delivering a message. With Halo Parade, Bill James hits his stride: the cause-and-effects story is fast, funny, tragic, and wholly surprising. The catalyst is a young officer named Ray Street, who has gone deep undercover to cozy up to an exacting drug kingpin named Jamieson, known to everyone in the business as You-know-who. When an airline pilot and smuggler is run down by a rival gang and his goods are stolen, a turf war escalates. The undercover cop is certain he can handle the heat, but both Harpur – feeling guilty for putting the rookie constable in this dangerous position – and Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles want him to abort the mission.
What happens next deserves to be discovered and appreciated by reading this book. I marvel at Bill James’ ability to craft wonderfully evocative dialogue for everyone in his gallery, from the perceptive wives and restless mistresses of the men in law enforcement who are searching for an ever-elusive human connection to the petty bourgeois criminals who build their dirty moneyed respectability on the backs of the addicted and the trapped. One of this series’ strongest elements is its world building, its intersection of police and politicians and sadists and lawbreakers mixed and mingled to the point that it’s hard to tell who is who.
Unpredictable plotting is also a sublime quality of the Harpur & Iles books, and yet each curve and reversal feels authentic in the moment. Halo Parade boasts a couple twists that are nothing less than exhilarating, and James pushes his characters to and over their breaking point with a confidence and clarity that is sometimes shocking (and also intensely satisfying). It is in this book that ACC Desmond Iles becomes fully defined as a character. While Colin Harpur and the pressures placed upon him continue to act as anchor for each story, it is his career-minded supervisor who emerges here as a cunning, calculating force to be reckoned with. In this author’s hands, Iles is a master at text and subtext, delivering a seemingly benign speech that can actually draw blood in its inference. (Think Marc Antony’s acid refrain of “But Brutus is an honourable man” in the famous Julius Caesar speech.) It is a talent not lost on his colleague:
Harpur saw the girl was studying Iles’s face, obviously amazed that he could pile on the piss-taking but betray there no evidence of his rage and bristling contempt. Somehow in his career Iles must have learned to keep the savagery in him decently screwed down and disguised, or he would not have made it to ACC. If he was able to reduce sex to crossword puzzles he could probably transform his anger into charm.
Halo Parade is a stunner of a book, a crime story expertly told. While readers new to the series can start here with little narrative trouble, I recommend reading the two titles before this one first for maximum impact.