Dry wit, London lore and quirky cases. I just finished reading CHRISTOPHER FOWLER’s Bryant & May Off the Rails (#8), and it reminded me how terrific the Peculiar Crime Unit mysteries are. The crimes are peculiar and the investigative techniques are… well, innovative. If you haven’t met Bryant before, picture him as a tortoise minus its shell, its pockets filled with rubbish and its head with a scramble of ideas. He’s insensitive and opinionated. May is a debonair by-the-book investigator and a ladies’ man. Together, the octogenarian sleuths make an incongruous but incomparable team. Every Bryant & May novel is self-contained, but the appearance of a repeat villain makes Off the Rails a sequel to Bryant & May On the Loose (#7). The elusive Mr. Fox has killed three times, was arrested by the PCU, stabbed a police officer and vanished. He has, quite literally, gone underground - into the London Underground, to be precise. Bryant and May have one week to recapture the ‘King’s Cross Executioner’. Although Bryant knows nothing about serial killers, he’s seen the things that make men mad. In today’s urban environment, the detectives have to think like magicians to solve the case. Bryant uses “the bridge of his imagination” to connect facts in a world of misdirection, deception and amazement. In 2009, The Victoria Vanishes (#6) won Crimefest’s Last Laugh award for funniest mystery. In Off the Rails, Fowler offers a clever solution to the problem of his characters’ ages in the long-running series, giving himself an extra decade to work with in a way that is sure to get a chuckle.
A word of warning, however, before you enter the PCU headquarters: a pair of useless workmen, both called Dave, are attempting repairs while offering unsought-for advice on the policing of the capital. And, by the way, there’s a hole in the floor of Bryant’s office. Don’t go near it.