Written by Christopher Fowler — In this, the 11th Bryant & May novel, The Peculiar Crimes Unit has moved under the City of London’s jurisdiction and has a new head – the go-getting career woman Orion Banks. She doesn’t understand the PCU and sees it as a risk to her future, so Orion wants the Unit to solve crimes the ‘proper’ way, by the book and only with her approval. But that’s not how Bryant, May and the rest of the team work, because the crimes they investigate are far from ordinary.
Their first case is, as usual, unusual. Two teenagers witness a corpse as it arises from its recently filled grave. When one of them, Romain Curtis, is killed in a hit and run a few days later the team know they’ve stumbled onto something. But Orion will not let Arthur Bryant investigate the case. Instead he is tasked with finding who’s stolen the ravens from the Tower of London – before the public finds out they’ve gone. For legend tells that without the ravens in residence, England will fall.
The mystery deepens as more bodies are dug up. A secret society of medical practitioners, dedicated to benefiting man by undertaking banned testing, appears on the scene, meeting a blindfolded Bryant at a hidden location. And every direction Bryant turns he sees the symbol of the bleeding heart…
On the cover the author is described as ‘unorthodox’, which is a good choice, although one word by no means paints the whole story. Christopher Fowler has enjoyed a long and rightfully successfully writing career, producing works that are often macabre but always cleverly constructed and intelligent. The Bryant and May series are police procedurals with a difference for multiple reasons.
The PCU is an excellent creation, a lens through which Fowler demonstrates his unique view of London to the reader whilst investigating the cases that no other department would touch or even comprehend. Bryant and May, the ying and the yang, are very well drawn, believable characters. Both are old men, well past retirement. They normally play off each other brilliantly, although less so in this novel where the pair undertake largely separate investigations as Bryant comes to understand an element of his past. We find him unorthodox and chaotic. He drives his colleagues to distraction, but fits perfectly into the PCU where his talents are able to flourish. May is the opposite, organised and methodical.
The lesser characters ably support the lead detectives – such as Land, the bumbling head of the PCU, utterly clueless but necessarily so, allowing Bryant and May to go about their work in their own way.
The narrative is cerebral whilst at the same time highly accessible. Despite the dark, paranormal cases, there is a rich seam of wit running throughout so the story never descends into outright horror. Fowler has a strong knowledge and love for London and this rings loud and clear through the little facts and data about the city – its places, its inhabitants – which are liberally peppered throughout. They’re not at all distracting and in fact add a rich layer, strengthening the novel as a whole..
It’s hard to believe this is the 11th in the Bryant and May series which remains as fresh and vibrant as ever. There’s no apparent formula here, simply a mind that is a little different to the rest of us producing high quality crime fiction. Long may it continue.
We previously reviewed Bryant & May and the Invisible Code here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars