James, Bill 1929–

views updated

James, Bill 1929–

(David Craig, Judith Jones, Allan James Tucker, James Tucker)


Born August 15, 1929, in Cardiff, Wales; son of William Arthur (a company director) and Violet Irene Tucker; married Marian Roberta Craig, July 17, 1954; children: Patrick, Catherine, Guy, David. Education: University of Wales, B.A., 1951, M.A., 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Walking.


Home—Cardiff, Wales. Agent—Peter Janson-Smith Ltd., 31 Newington Green, London N. 16, England.


Journalist and author. Western Mail, Cardiff, Wales, leader writer, 1954-56; Daily Mirror, London, England, reporter, 1956-58; has held various jobs with newspapers, 1958—; also part-time university teacher. Military service: Royal Air Force, 1951-53; became flying officer.


Society of Authors, Crime Writers Association, Detection Club.


You'd Better Believe It, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Protection, Constable (London, England), 1988, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1992, published as Harpur and Iles, Pan (London, England), 1996.

Halo Parade, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1991.

The Lolita Man, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1991.

Come Clean, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1993.

Take, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1994.

Harpur and Iles: An Omnibus (includes You'd Better Believe It, Lolita Man, and Halo Parade), Pan (London, England), 1994.

Club, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1995.

Astride a Grave, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1996.

Top Banana, Macmillan (London, England), 1996, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1999.

Gospel, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.

The Last Enemy, Severn House (Sutton, England), 1997.

Roses, Roses, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1998.

Eton Crop, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1999.

Lovely Mover, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1999.

Kill Me, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

In Good Hands, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Split, Do-Not Press (Chester Springs, PA), 2001.

Panicking Ralph, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

The Detective is Dead, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Pay Days, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Middleman, Do-Not Press (Chester Springs, PA), 2002.

Naked at the Window, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.

Double Jeopardy, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2002.

The Girl with the Long Back: A Harpur and Iles Mystery, Constable (London, England), 2003, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

A Man's Enemies, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2003.

Easy Streets, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.

Wolves of Memory, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

Between Lives, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2006.

Making Stuff Up, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2006.

The Sixth Man and Other Stories, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2006.

Letters from Carthage, Severn House (Sutton, England), 2007.

Girls, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 2007.


Equal Partners (novel), Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1960.

The Right Hand Man (novel), Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1961.

Honourable Estates (nonfiction), Gollancz (London, England), 1966.

Burster (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1966.

The Novels of Anthony Powell (criticism), Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1976.

Blaze of Riot (novel), Hutchinson (London, England), 1979.

The King's Friends (novel), Arrow, 1982.


The Alias Man, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1968.

Message Ends, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1969.

Young Men May Die, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1970.

Contact Lost, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1970.

Walk at Night, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1971.

Up from the Grave, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1971.

Double Take, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1972.

Bolthole, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1973.

Knifeman, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1973.

The Squeeze, Stein & Day (New York, NY), 1974.

A Dead Liberty, Macmillan (London, England), 1974.

Whose Little Girl Are You?, Macmillan (London, England), 1974.

The Albion Case, Macmillan (London, England), 1975.

Faith, Hope and Death, Macmillan (London, England), 1976.


Baby Talk, Constable & Robinson (London, England), 1998.

After Melissa, Constable & Robinson (London, England), 1999.


Also writer of television and radio documentaries. Contributor to Punch, Spectator, New Society, and London Sunday Times.


Crime writer Bill James has also written under his birth name, James Tucker, and the pseudonyms David Craig and Judith Jones. He is best known for his series of novels under the Bill James name. They feature detective Colin Harpur and his superior officer, the scheming Desmond Iles, as they try to deal with the local drug underworld. In these tales, the author's heroes "often seem more evil and lust-fixated than his bad guys, reported a Publishers Weekly contributor. For example, although Harpur is married and the father of two, he indulges in numerous affairs throughout the series of novels. Also featured in the novels are a wide assortment of colorful criminals, including Panicking Ralph, a movie-star-handsome man whose nickname reveals his weakness. In addition to his take on modern police work, James is also noted for his humor and snappy dialogue.

In Club James tells the story of an ill-fated bank heist surrounded by a tale of double crosses and infidelity, with Iles's wife first having an affair with a gangster and then turning her attention to Harpur. A Publishers Weekly contributor appreciated that the author is "resolutely in control of his material and the verbal rhythms and patter of his cast." Astride a Grave is a follow up to Club and features Harpur having an affair with Iles's wife, while a gang of crooks featured in Club, including Panicking Ralph, turn on each other. In this case, another Publishers Weekly contributor complimented the author's "giddy, spiraling dialogue."

Come Clean revolves around a plot by a top underworld figure to rid himself of a rival during a wedding. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author's "trick of slipping gallows humor and threats of shocking violence into idiom-laden, quotidian discourse works wonderfully." In Gospel Harpur is lusting after Denise, a young university student. In addition, he finds himself the object of revenge by his snitch, Jack Lamb, after a tip to Harpur leads to the murder of Lamb's son. Emily Melton, writing about this installment in the series for Booklist, noted that Gospel is "cleverly plotted, devilishly funny, and full of grim and gritty reality." A Publishers Weekly contributor similarly referred to Gospel as "clever and complex."

Eton Crop finds Chief Lane, Harpur and Iles's boss, fretting over his own reputation as a police officer when the local drug-dealing franchise is taken over by a major London drug dealer. Booklist contributor Melton called Eton Crop "a gripping installment in a superior series." Iles takes center stage in The Girl with the Long Back: A Harpur and Iles Mystery. With the possibility of a new chief arriving, Iles is worried that his ability to keep the crime world at bay by cutting deals may be in jeopardy and lead to a potential retaliation. In a review of the book in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor observed that "every delectable conversation [is] a set piece worth the price of admission."

Easy Streets focuses on a new, relaxed drug policy that leads to an eruption of violence, including the firebombing of a drug dealer's house. In the meantime, Harpur and Iles fret over the safety of an undercover policewoman assigned to infiltrate a major drug gang. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author's "loyal band of readers should appreciate the acid rain of his irony" in this installment of the series. Writing in Booklist, Keir Graff called the novel "a rich, rare treat." Criminal Ian Ballion turns informant in Wolves of Memory. When Ballion and his family are relocated for safety reasons, Harpur and Iles find themselves assigned to protect them. In Booklist Melton pointed out the story's "high velocity, kick-in-the-teeth ending that reconfirms the exceedingly fine line between good and evil." Referring to the novel as "mordantly funny," a Kirkus Reviews contributor also commented that the author "has never been feistier or trickier."

James is also the author of several highly regarded stand-alone novels not in the "Harpur and Iles" series. Double Jeopardy features a case of a murdered American black woman in which Detective Sergeant Kerry Lake's lover, officer Vic Othen, hinders the investigation as a favor to a businessman with criminal connections. Before long, Kerry and Othen discover they are being watched, but they are not sure if the surveillance is being conducted by the police or the criminals. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Double Jeopardy "a tour de force of irony, with no motive taken at face value and no one, however well-placed, left unscathed."

The death of a British movie star is at the center of Between Lives. Actor David Gale commits suicide, and Louise Summers is told to rewrite her autobiography of Gale, for which she is serving as the ghostwriter. In the meantime, her personal project is a biography of Andrew Pax, a Cambridge man who was executed as a communist spy in the 1940s. This project leads her to Pax's British interrogator and an uncovering of the role that a Cambridge don played in recruiting Pax as a spy. The don may or may not have committed suicide over his guilt regarding the young man's death. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "effectively infiltrates the territory of Graham Greene's The Third Man, making you think twice about sending your kids to college." Melton, writing again in Booklist, felt that "this story has considerable appeal, for the plot itself … [and] for the eccentric characters and bone-dry wit."

Letters from Carthage is a psychological thriller and, according to Booklist contributor Melton, "quite a change of pace" for the author. The story revolves around the couples Vince and Kate and Jill and Dennis. When Vince and Kate move to suburbia, Kate is enamored by the seemingly perfect Jill and Dennis, who live in a beautiful home called Carthage. The story of how Jill and Dennis are not who they seem to be is told through a series of letters and via Kate's diary. Melton called Letters from Carthage a "brilliant and thoroughly entertaining mix of horror and thriller." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "James again proves himself a sharp and subtle stylist."

James also writes short stories, some of which are included in the collection The Sixth Man and Other Stories. The fifteen tales in this collection include humorous tales, such as "Elsewhere," which is about a constantly ringing telephone and a man's sexual desires. In another story, "War Crimes," James writes of a love triangle and murder. Writing in Booklist, Melton asserted that the author demonstrates that he can "deliver quality crime fiction" outside of the novel format.



Booklist, May 15, 1994, Emily Melton, review of Take, p. 1666; April 15, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Gospel, p. 1406; August, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Roses, Roses, p. 1975; February 1, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Top Banana, p. 965; April 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Lovely Mover, p. 1480; April 15, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Top Banana, p. 1458; October 1, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Eton Crop, p. 346; May 1, 2001, Jenny McLarin, review of Panicking Ralph, p. 1634; July, 2001, Emily Melton, review of Pay Days, p. 1987; February 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of The Girl with the Long Back: A Harpur and Illes Mystery, p. 1043; March 15, 2004, Emily Melton, review of Between Lives, p. 1271; June 1, 2005, Keir Graff, review of Easy Streets, p. 1762; May 1, 2006, Emily Melton, review of Wolves of Memory, p. 32; September 1, 2006, Emily Melton, review of The Sixth Man and Other Stories, p. 62; January 1, 2007, Emily Melton, review of Letters from Carthage, p. 64.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Split, p. 145; May 1, 2002, review of Double Jeopardy, p. 619; October 15, 2002, review of Naked at the Window, p. 1508; February 1, 2004, reviews of The Girl with the Long Back and Between Lives, p. 111; May 15, 2006, review of Wolves of Memory, p. 498; February 1, 2007, review of Letters from Carthage, p. 10.

Library Journal, January, 1999, Shirley E. Havens, review of Roses, Roses, p. 204; February 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Top Banana, p. 125; May 1, 2001, Rex Klett, review of Panicking Ralph, p. 130; March 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Split, p. 143; December, 2002, Rex Klett, review of Naked at the Window, p. 184; March 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of The Girl with the Long Back, p. 112.

Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Lolita Man, p. 74; July 20, 1992, review of Protection, p. 231; December 28, 1992, review of Come Clean, p. 59; April 4, 1994, review of Take, p. 60; March 13, 1995, review of Club, p. 62; March 25, 1996, review of Astride a Grave, p. 64; March 10, 1997, review of Gospel, p. 53; June 8, 1998, review of Roses, Roses, p. 49; January 11, 1999, review of Top Banana, p. 57; May 3, 1999, review of Lovely Mover, p. 69; October 25, 1999, review of Eton Crop, p. 53; April 17, 2000, review of Kill Me, p. 56; April 2, 2001, review of Panicking Ralph, p. 43; June 25, 2001, review of Pay Days, p. 52; February 25, 2002, review of Split, p. 42; June 17, 2002, review of Double Jeopardy, p. 46; November 18, 2002, review of Naked at the Window, p. 45; February 2, 2004, review of The Girl with the Long Back, p. 63; June 20, 2005, review of Easy Streets, p. 62; May 8, 2006, review of Wolves of Memory, p. 50; September 25, 2006, review of The Sixth Man and Other Stories, p. 49; January 8, 2007, review of Letters from Carthage, p. 37.

About this article

James, Bill 1929–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article