I’m a huge fan of the Bryant & May novels by Christopher Fowler and have read them all with relish. They’re particularly fun for me as a Londoner and a history nerd. The author blends historical fact with fiction so well that on occasion I have found myself fact-checking several of the novels in order to distinguish between historical fact and flights of the author’s fancy.
Crime buffs will notice straight away that this story is a variation on a classic crime set up; the locked room mystery. A variation that could only really work in a London setting. The author does a great job of misleading the reader with several red herrings, and I didn’t start to zero in the the killer and his motive until the last few chapters. Even then it remained a rather nebulous notion until the denouement, when all was revealed.
Film nerds might also notice a passing resemblance to a certain 1960’s art house movie starring David Hemming. It was an impression that was with me right from the start, so it was immensely satisfying, in the last third of the book, to see Arthur Bryant attend a screening of that very film.
Speaking of Arthur Bryant, he is on sparkling, bonkers form as usual, but I couldn’t help feeling that John May was very much fading in to the background of this story, almost to the point where he was little more than a device to prop up the narrative in some of the chapters.
Another criticism I have of this outing for the PCU is the inclusion of Raymond Land’s memo to his staff. It was overly long, and I found myself able to skip most of it, without it impacting on my ability to understand the plot. Raymond’s neuroses and incompetence are usually the source of much of the series’ humour, but in this case it was done to death. I also felt the scenes in which the author chose to present dialogue in a script-like format similarly dull to read.
Finally, whilst I realise that having the PCU permanently under threat from the Machiavellian shenanigans of the civil service adds pace and a sense of threat to the plot, once you’ve read more than a few of the novels it gets a bit tired. I can’t help but hope that one day Bryant & May will called to investigate the grisly demise of one Leslie Faraday, especially if Raymond Land is the one found standing over the corpse, bloody knife in hand.
Despite those criticisms this was still a great outing for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, with all the expected eccentrics and geeks fans have come to expect, as well as plenty of spot on observations of the utter lunacy of London life.