British Police Procedurals II: The Bill Slider Series
I recently discovered and fell in love with Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s Detective Inspector Bill Slider of the Shepherd’s Bush police station in west London and his partner – or as Slider refers to him, his bagman – Detective Sergeant Jim Atherton.
The series started with Orchestrated Death published in 1992.
The eighteenth book, Hard Going, appeared in 2015.
Three things to love about the series:
The main characters. From the very first the complicated lives of Slider and Atherton are every bit as important as are the murders. Slider provides the emotional, psychological and moral center of the series. Atherton – a classic rake (see The Art of Seduction) – provides friendship, aesthetics and wit.
When the series opens Slider has been in a lackluster marriage for fifteen years. In Orchestrated Death he meets violinist Joanna early on in the course of a murder investigation. They fall instantly in love … and then Slider gloomily mucks around in the muddy world of the cheating husband, not wishing to upset his wife Irene and his two children, all the while fabulously in love in Joanna. The situation takes a couple of more books – which is to say a couple of more murders and a couple of more years – to sort itself out. And even then there is ongoing personal drama.
Atherton’s easy-come-easy-go approach to love provides a clear counterpart to Slider’s sense of divided loyalty. Atherton has none.
The police work. Harrod-Eagles has created a world of crime solving that rings absolutely true. She herself is from Shepherd’s Bush. It is clear she has spent time researching the fine public servants of the Metropolitan Police, and she knows how they think, act and talk. She has a firm grasp of the characters involved in solving a crime, from the medical examiner to Sliders’ team of detectives to the Superintendent who either will or will not allocate resources for extra forensic testing, extra cops on the case or the overtime needed to catch a killer.
What Slider calls ‘the factory’. This wonderfully (awfully?) non-descript building is perfect for the tone of the series.
Although some of the crimes are a bit strange – but properly theatrical to make for a good crime novel – the painstaking procedural work to solve them is always down-to-earth and satisfying. Similarly entertaining are the suspects who regularly line up to offer the reader a parade of people with lives sometimes sordid, sometimes quirky and sometimes glamorous.
The writing. Slider and Atherton have good banter along the lines of: Slider bemoaning some aspect of his life and wishing for more: “What do you call a man with no dreams?” Atherton: “Solvent.”
Harrod-Eagles grips the reader with vivid descriptions and metaphors. I opened a copy of Blood Lines at random.
And found this passage:
“The food, when it came, was as miserable as could be rendered, the sort of rolls that were soft on the outside and hard on the inside instead of the other way around, scraped over with margarine instead of butter, with one thing square of processed cheese in each, whose four corner, poking outside the circumference, had gone hard and greasy from exposure. When Slider opened the rolls to inspect them, he found as a final insult a single wafer-thin circlet of tomato stuck to the marge in each, damp, anaemic and smelling of old knives.”
I’m not going to argue that this description of a grotty cheese sandwich is the height of literary expression, but i) I had promised myself that I’d take the first passage I came across; and ii) it captures the spirit and tone of the series, where Slider – as well as many of the characters, both innocent and guilty – have to accept a little less in life rather than a little more. Harrod-Eagles creates a world where disappointments, compromises and frustrations are the order of the day, where love goes wrong, rage surfaces and murder occurs.
I began the series by reading Book #8, Blood Sinister
because it was the earliest of the book in the series to be available on Kindle. I read through the end and then ordered the paper editions of Books 1 – 7, which is something I never bother to do. It says something of my love for the series that I read the first book after ten later on.
Categorised in: What I'm Reading
This post was written by Julie Andresen