There have been certain authors that I’ve always meant to include in my blog. I’ve finally got round to M V Carey and, inspired by ticking that box, it’s time to include the final author on my mental list.
Christopher Fowler is the writer of many things, but in the mystery genre, he is the creator of Arthur Bryant and John May, two octogenarian detectives who lead the misfits of London’s Peculiar Crime Unit, in a series of, to date, ten novels, featuring bizarre mysteries and nuggets of London’s rich history.
In this book, the seventh of the series, the Unit has been disbanded and the members are going their separate ways until a decapitated body and the embodiment of Herne the Hunter leads to the reformation of the department. But can they find the truth behind the murders and the sabotage at the St Pancras construction project before the Unit is dissolved for the final time?
It’s clear that Fowler loves these characters – he gives each member of the PCU – and there are quite a few of them – decent page-time with some significant developments for some of them. In fact, I’d recommend not reading this book unless you’ve read the earlier books in the series. The ongoing development of the characters is one of the strengths of the series and Fowler is not shy of making that development integral to the plot. In fact, I first read this book when it came out a few years ago, but, having forgotten a lot of what happens here, I re-read it before launching into the next book, Bryant & May Off The Rails, as it seems to be a direct sequel to this one. I imagine that one crucial incident towards the end of the book is going to be very important in the next one – I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t.
But enough of the characters, what of the plot? Well, that’s the other reason to read the other books first.
This isn’t the best mystery in the series by a long way. The plot takes a long time to pull itself into focus and parts of the solution do seem to come out of nowhere. Having said that, the book is not presented as a whodunnit. The reason that this comes across as being disappointing is that the earlier books have somewhat more traditional plots. As I write this, I’m trying to decide if this is an actual problem with the book for me, and am coming to the conclusion that it isn’t. It’s a brave move to change the plotting style of a series – come to think of it, White Corridor, the preceding book, is more of a thriller than a whodunnit. What is possibly an issue though is the fact that the ending makes the book feel mostly like a set-up for the following book. Luckily, that’s sitting on my shelf upstairs, so I can (and will) read it pretty soon. But I do remember being pretty miffed when I read this the first time, before the next one was published…
So overall – not the best in the series, but this is a series that is worth investing time in from the start. The snapshots of London history that proliferate the series add a level of fascination to the narrative and long-term readers will appreciate finding out what happens next to their favourite characters. Once it kicks in, the plot is good, and you will want to read the next book by the end. But it’s probably best not to make this the first book in the series that you read.