Bryant & May On the Loose and Off the Rails (Christopher Fowler)

Christopher Fowler, I’d hazard, is One of Us.

He’s written newspaper columns praising John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham, Gladys Mitchell, and S.S. Van Dine (as well as later writers like Peter Dickinson and H.R.F. Keating).  He’s a fan of Michael Innes, while one of his books is a nod to Edmund Crispin‘s Moving Toyshop.

He laments the lack of imagination in contemporary “realistic” crime fiction, considering himself a “dissident writer … prepared to present ideas rather than pursuing false credibility.

“There are so many other crime stories to tell, farcical, tragic, contemporary and strange.  It’s time readers were allowed to discover them.”

” Golden Age mysteries frequently featured absurd, surreal crimes investigated by wonderfully eccentric sleuths.  The form was treated as something joyous and playful.”

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Fowler’s own books burst with joy, playfulness, and a lively intelligence; anyone who likes the literate, imaginative detective story (from Mitchell and Innes to Hill), or Doctor Who, The Avengers, or Nebulous, should read him.

His books bring an exuberant, Golden Age baroque imaginative sensibility to contemporary London.

My favourites are the apocalyptic Water Room (2004), and Ten Second Staircase (2006), a brilliant commentary on celebrity culture and mythmaking.

His own “wonderfully eccentric sleuths” are two elderly coppers, Arthur Bryant and John May, of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, charged with investigating such “absurd, surreal crimes” as a serial killer stalking a production of Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers, man-eating tigers, and impossible disappearances.

Bryant is a cantankerous expert on the arcane; he leads tours of historical London, consults white witches, makes computers and phones melt by being in the same room, and looks for the pattern behind the crime.

May is more the straight man: an elegant technology whiz, interested in people.

But Bryant & May are finely matched.

In Bryant & May On the Loose (2009), their enemies in the Home Office have closed the PCU down after the scandalous revelations of The Victoria Vanishes.

But not for long.

The discovery of a severed head in a freezer, and sightings of what appears to be a Slavic forest god have important political ramifications.

It’s a complex, vividly told police procedural, but rather difficult to follow in parts.

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Bryant & May Off the Rails (2010) begins as a manhunt, then turns into the sort of tight whodunit, with a small circle of suspects, all with opportunity, I really enjoy.

A psychotic killer is hiding in the Underground; and a student vanishes from a moving Tube train in the two minutes it takes to travel between two stops.  Are anarchists involved?

The solution is clever, but I’m not sure whether a reader is given enough clues to figure it out.

3 thoughts on “Bryant & May On the Loose and Off the Rails (Christopher Fowler)

  1. I should probably get into this series sometime. I read Full Dark House a year or so back and while I liked it and the idea behind the killer, it was a little unsatisfying. The impossibilities were a little weak, and I felt that there were a few plot threads never really went anywhere/were unfinished. But I might give them another shot if I can find The Water Room.


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