"Girls," Bill James

Pros: Hilarious, fascinating, engrossing
Cons: None at all
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of The Countryman Press.


Girls is a Harpur & Iles mystery, Harpur and Iles being the two main police characters in Bill James’ series of mystery novels. While I have read none of his other books, I had little difficulty following Girls as a standalone book and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as such.

Harpur and Iles have had a very, well, comfortable arrangement with some of the local gangsters: the gangsters keep their drug trade free of violence and confined to the poorer and less-visible areas of town, and the police turn something of a blind eye to their doings. Unfortunately for everyone, things are changing. The Albanians have come in and set up shop in an upscale part of town, and several new Brit gangs are trying to follow suit. The Albanians also have a rather different way of doing business, and it includes importing underage girls as prostitutes, often against their will. The clash of new and old leads inevitably to violence, and everyone is left desperately trying to sort out the pieces—as well as their own places in both the world of law & order and the world of social class in general.


For such a dark premise and subject matter (and, yes, plenty of appropriately adult language to go with it), this is an incredibly quirky, witty, bizarre, bewildering, fascinating, and utterly delightful book.

The story is told from various male characters’ points of view, and centers upon the search for a kid who might have started the violent clash and may be in a great deal of danger—one Scott Grant, the boyfriend of Hazel, Harpur’s older daughter. Everyone seems to be after him for one reason or another. Harpur wants to make sure it wasn’t really him, or protect him and get him out of ‘the life’ if it was. Mansel—or Manse—Shale (one of the old guard) wants to protect him in order to get on Harpur’s good side. Iles wants to either protect him (to help Harpur) or get rid of him (to make it easier to get to Hazel). The Albanians want him dead because they think he started all the violence, and one of the new Brit pimps wants him dead for the same reason.

Despite the fact that it’s the men’s minds and eyes we see through, it’s the girls who seem to drive the action. Harpur’s two high school-aged daughters lecture him on the sociological implications of his policework, while his university student girlfriend gives him advice on whether or not to break into Scott’s home. A dead Albanian kingpin’s girl kicks off several key events, as do other prostitutes at various times. Nearly every major figure has at least one daughter who seems to figure into things; even those that don’t come on-screen have clearly shaped their fathers’ ambitions and plans for the future.

The most beautiful and brilliant thing about the book, however, is all of the wonderful dialogue. People talk at, past, through, and around each other in the most amazing and baffling ways—whether due to brilliance, stupidity, malice, stubbornness, or snark.

And in the end, while the mystery is great, it takes a back seat to the amazing and daft characters that populate this book.

Note that while there’s plenty of adult subject matter and language, this is not a graphic book in terms of sex or violence.


Note: This was a review of an uncorrected proof and thus I cannot comment on prevalence or lack of errors. (Mind you, this was an awfully error-free uncorrected proof, as such things go.)

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6 comments on “"Girls," Bill James
  1. This definitely sounds like a worthwhile read. Thank you for the great review!

  2. heather says:

    Feline: It was dizzying to look at the front of the book and see how huge this series is. But, also oddly comforting, to know I can go read more of these stories…

  3. Stephanie says:

    Oh….does this one sound good!! Looks like I’ll have to add some Harpur & Iles mysteries to my TBR list!! What a great review!

  4. heather says:

    Stephanie: Thanks, and I hope you like them! I can’t wait to read more!

  5. Alice Teh says:

    Hey Heather, this sounds like something I’d pick up. Thanks for the great review!

  6. heather says:

    Alice: I hope you enjoy it if you get the chance to read it! I’ll be posting a review of another of James’s Harpur & Iles mysteries soon.

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