This is the fourth book in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series, but the first one I have read. I picked it up in the book shop because it looked interesting, non-standard, and a little bit quirky. Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU), a division that was set up during the second World War to deal with sensitive cases that had the potential to capture the public’s imagination and damage morale, thus harming the war effort. Bryant and May have been part of the Unit since its beginning, and are still there in the present day, well past their retirement age, but too dedicated (or set in their ways) to step back from the job.
I had expected the book to be on the funny side of quirky, but it isn’t. Although it has many amusing moments, it’s a serious police mystery where the characters–and the crime–just happen to be somewhat off the wall. A figure dressed as an eighteenth-century highwayman is killing minor celebrities in impossible circumstances, and then vanishing into thin air. The case seems somehow connected to a series of killings the Unit had failed to solve many years ago, and which May is reluctant to revisit, because his own daughter eventually became a victim. Bryant, meanwhile, is keen to use every unorthodox investigative technique at his disposal to get to the bottom of both cases.
Overall it’s a carefully paced, thoughtful thriller, full of London details and well-drawn, engaging characters, with a satisfying kick at the end. I will definitely be picking up the rest of this series.