Written by Christopher Fowler — Last year Christopher Fowler won the prestigious CWA Dagger in the Library award which recognises a significant body of work, as chosen by library users. And rightly so. Fowler is a prodigious writer, from his excellent debut Roofworld to Spanky, on to his two autobiographies and, of course, his Bryant and May novels. This is the 14th book in that series, but it never seems to tire with readers.
Wild Chamber opens with the closure of the case of The Mr Punch Killer. The Peculiar Crimes Unit are chasing down their man on a desolate, rain-battered London night. As they close in the PCU shut all the surrounding roads to ensure he’s trapped. The downside is traffic chaos.
As they bring in their man, something goes wrong. A lorry is sent through a tunnel where it almost hits seven-year-old Charlie Forrester and his nanny Sharyn Buckland. However, a splinter of glass from the crash enters Charlie’s eye. He collapses, is taken to hospital but within hours he’s dead – the victim of what seems like a tragic accident
Six months later the boy’s father, Jeremy Forrester, is fired from his high flying job after mishandling company funds. He realises he’s ruined, having accumulated debts to fund various projects. The trouble is he’s borrowed from some seriously bad people, the mysterious Sun Dark in particular. Jeremy has to disappear or he’ll wind up dead.
A further six months on, Ritchie Jackson is working in some private gardens in a posh London suburb. It’s early morning and one of the residents is walking her dog. The dog runs off and Ritchie goes looking for it. By the time he returns the woman is lying on the path, dead. She’s been strangled. The woman is Helen Forrester, Jeremy’s soon to be ex-wife and Charlie’s mother.
As nobody could enter the gardens because only the residents have keys, the death is deemed sufficiently unusual to be handed to the PCU. Ritchie is taken into custody, the obvious suspect. It turns out he’d been taking a photo of Mrs Forrester while she walked. When the police look closely at the image they can see a blurred face in the background. Someone else was in the garden watching Helen.
As unorthodox Arthur Bryant (who’s having hallucinations after recovering from a serious illness which he’d attempted to treat himself) and dapper John May investigate, they realise there’s much more to the case than is initially obvious. Bryant is convinced there will be more murders and before long another body turns up, in a park once more. Do the deaths have a purpose, and are they somehow connected to London’s exclusive parks – the wild chambers.
In the background Leslie Faraday of the Home Office is seeking to shut down the PCU. To do so he’s having the parks closed, citing public safety. The PCU have until the end of the week to solve the case or find themselves out of a job…
I’ll make a prediction now – Wild Chamber will be in my top five books for 2017. Bryant and May continue to be at the top of their game, and in some ways the novels are improving with age. Interestingly, in the acknowledgements at the rear Fowler does mention the relationship he and his team has developed and it shows. There’s no author quite like Christopher Fowler, and there are no characters quite like Arthur Bryant and John May.
There are a multitude of facets to Wild Chamber which make it stand out. First and foremost are the characters, particularly Arthur Bryant who’s even more off balance than usual. For example, he’s started employing old swear words, and peppers them throughout his conversations, explaining their meaning and background.
Next is London is itself, Fowler paints the city as a fascinating backdrop. Throughout the novel there are facts and pieces of history to add depth. Fowler is London born and bred, and his love for the city and all its eccentricities clearly comes through in the narrative. Even the straight characters are quirky and have their own frailties which drew them to the PCU and keeps them there.
Last but not least is the cover art, beautifully rendered, even the font the designer has chosen works.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars