James, Russell 1942-
James, Russell 1942-
Born October 5, 1942, in Gillingham, Kent, England; married Jill Redfern (a lecturer), 1978; children: Henry, Kate, Sarah. Education: Attended military school.
Agent—Jane Conway-Gordon, 1 Old Compton St., London W1D 5JA, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Broadcaster and actor, 1960-67; worked for International Business Machines Co. in England, 1967-70; held managerial position, 1970-79; Business Aid, owner and business consultant, 1979-2000. Past member of local review committee for Gloucester Prison.
Crime Writers Association (chair, 2001-02), Fresh Blood, Detection Club.
Underground, Gollancz (London, England), 1989, Stark House Press (Eureka, CA), 2007.
Daylight, Gollancz (London, England), 1990.
Payback, Gollancz (London, England), 1991, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1993.
Slaughter Music, Allison & Busby (London, England), 1994, Foul Play Press (Woodstock, VT), 1995.
Count Me Out, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1996, Foul Play Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Oh No, Not My Baby: A Noir Mystery, Do-Not Press (London, England), 1999.
Painting in the Dark, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2000.
The Annex, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2002.
Pick Any Title, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2002.
No One Gets Hurt, Do-Not Press (London, England), 2003.
Great British Fictional Detectives (nonfiction), Remember When (Moorhead, MN), 2008.
Contributor of short stories, articles, and theater sketches to magazines, including Crime Time.
Film rights have been sold for Underground, Daylight, and Payback.
Russell James's mystery novels frequently deal with people drawn unwittingly into dangerous situations where they encounter various unsavory characters. His stories have been compared to the classic detective novels and films noir of the mid-twentieth century. His first novel published in the United States, Payback, "crackles with action and dialogue [Dashiell] Hammett or Raymond Chandler might envy," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The plot follows a former boxer who runs afoul of various criminals after discovering his deceased brother was involved in the illegal drug trade. In the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio commented on the "nice, nervous edge" of James's writing and the vividness of his depiction of a "squalid dockside neighborhood." The Publishers Weekly critic called the story "hard-boiled in the grand, classic style," while a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed it an "expertly seedy tale."
Reviewing Slaughter Music, Booklist contributor Emily Melton noted that James's books provide "the literary equivalent of lifting a rock and finding a writhing mass of disgusting life-forms underneath." She meant this as a compliment to James's "cold, dark, powerful writing." This story of warring London gangsters has a crucial scene in which a corpse is delivered to a wedding reception. A Publishers Weekly commentator praised this scene, but thought the novel disjointed and sometimes dull, adding that "Payback delivered more fully on its promise." Melton, however, predicted that readers of Slaughter Music would be "mesmerized."
In Count Me Out, an armored-car robbery leaves one thief dead and another, Scott Heywood, on the run. Scott's brother Jet, a small-time boxer and lone parent to an eight-year-old daughter, is pursued on his fairground career by criminals looking for Scott and the money. Again, critics noticed the noirish atmosphere; a Publishers Weekly reviewer found two of the criminal characters reminiscent of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre "in their roles in The Maltese Falcon." Joanne Wilkinson described the novel in her Booklist review as "a bleak, uncompromising look at a hardscrabble existence," and the New York Times Book Review contributor Stasio was impressed with "the depth, as well as the darkness, of [James's] insights."
The plot of Oh No, Not My Baby: A Noir Mystery turns on a chance meeting between a musician—named Nick Chance—and a woman who was the girl of his dreams when they were schoolmates. When he accompanies her on a dead-of-night errand, he becomes embroiled in troubles involving radical activists for animal rights and the environment, in addition to operatives for corrupt corporations. A Kirkus Reviews commentator deemed the book "a lean, mean view of corporate expediency and men being led around by their gonads." A Publishers Weekly contributor, noting that James "usually writes noir that reaches down low and comes up with all kinds of unsettling images," thought this novel lacked suspense, ending up "more gray than noir." Booklist reviewer Thomas Gaughan, though, described James's creation of a world where "few [characters] are precisely what they seem," and he dubbed the book "a page-turner."
Painting in the Dark revolves around the paintings of deceased artist Naomi Keene, whose portraits of the rich and powerful figures of Nazi Germany outlive her and haunt her reclusive sister Sidonie. An unscrupulous art dealer attempts to unearth Naomi's supposedly undiscovered artwork and exploit it for fame and profit, and mayhem ensues. Booklist contributor Melton called the novel "a chillingly compelling examination of evil." No One Gets Hurt did not fare so well with Booklistreviewer Frank Sennett. This is a story, he wrote, of people who could have avoided trouble if only they had relied on their own common sense. The novel involves the pornographic film industry, a female journalist who crosses over from observer to participant and ends up quite publicly murdered, and her journalist friend who investigates the death. Sennett noted the flaws he perceived in the plot of the novel but also mentioned James's cast of characters, describing them as "a viper's nest of compelling gangsters."
The Annex drew the attention of several reviewers who likened it to a modern retelling of the novel The Changeling, written centuries earlier by Thomas Middleton (1580-1627). In James's version, a beautiful young woman named Joanna is on the verge of marrying a wealthy, much older architect when her past emerges to threaten her happily-ever-after ending. An old boyfriend, recently released from prison, tracks Joanna down and wants her back. She turns to the architect's physically repulsive chauffeur to rescue her from this impending disaster. He dose so in violent and bloody fashion, then demands payment in the form of sexual blackmail that a Kirkus Reviews contributor found no less than "appalling." James, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, pays more attention "to character study and locale than plot" but nonetheless produces a "compelling" tale. Rex E. Klett recommended The Annex to Library Journal readers as "eminently readable, vividly portrayed, and highly suspenseful."
James told CA: "Most crime writers don't write crime novels, they write anti-crime novels: police procedurals, private investigator stories, puzzlers, et cetera. I write about criminals and victims. I write about crime. But my stories are less hard-boiled than my reputation as the godfather of British noir suggests. By concentrating on the ordinary people caught up in the crimes, rather than on poetic policemen and intuitive old ladies, I deal with the themes that interest me: death, loyalty, and the ties that bind. They are old-fashioned themes, perhaps—but they're the lifeblood of fiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of Slaughter Music, p. 1734; April 15, 1997, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Count Me Out, p. 1410; February 15, 2000, Thomas Gaughan, review of Oh No, Not My Baby: A Noir Mystery, p. 1088; April 1, 2001, Emily Melton, review of Painting in the Dark, p. 1449; February 15, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of The Annex, p. 995; November 15, 2003, Frank Sennett, review of No One Gets Hurt, p. 585.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1993, review of Payback; March 1, 1997, review of Count Me Out, p. 338; February 15, 2000, review of Oh No, Not My Baby, p. 213; February 1, 2002, review of The Annex, p. 145.
Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of The Annex, p. 142.
New York Times Book Review, December 12, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime"; May 11, 1997, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime."
Publishers Weekly, October 11, 1993, review of Payback, p. 72; March 20, 1995, review of Slaughter Music, p. 46; March 24, 1997, review of Count Me Out, p. 62; February 14, 2000, review of Oh No, Not My Baby, p. 177; February 11, 2002, review of The Annex, p. 164.