There’s nothing quite like settling into a new Bryant & May novel. The long-running series by Christopher Fowler pitches two octogenarian detectives and their ‘Peculiar Crimes Unit’ against the most malign and macabre set of villains that Old London Town has ever thrown up. This time round, our aged heroes are on the trail of a baby-murderer; one who leaves no prints and seemingly takes the form of a sinister Mr Punch puppet.
As ever with Fowler, London plays a leading role in proceedings: from the PCU’s headquarters in a former haunt of Aleister Crowley (a step down from their previous home above Mornington Crescent Tube) to the first crime scene on Northumberland Avenue, to an incident involving a bridge and a banker that’ll ring bells with students of London’s criminal history. You won’t find many detective novels where the protagonists find a plausible way to assemble their suspects in the London Dungeon.
The fast-paced main plot, a whodunit involving a theatrical troupe, love triangles, dodgy financing, and that Mr Punch puppet, is neatly interlaced with a secondary thread concerning the possible theft of Arthur Bryant’s memoirs. The ending, which of course we can’t reveal, is not so much a cliff-hanger as a cliff-approacher. Even after several thousand pages of B&M spread over nine books, Fowler still leaves the reader desperate for more.
As with all Bryant and May novels, you don’t have to have read any of the preceding installments. They’re all self-contained and can be enjoyed in any order…and this one is even more self-contained and enjoyable than usual.