Monday, November 16, 2015

Bryant & May and the Burning Man: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

Author:  Christopher Fowler
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover, E-book
ISBN #:  9780345547682
Bantam Publishing
416 Pages
$19.26 Amazon; $12.99 Kindle
December 15, 2015

Five Stars

No case is too curious for Arthur Bryant and John May, London's most ingenious detectives.  But with their beloved city engulfed in turmoil, they'll have to work fast to hold a sinister killer's feet to the fire.

In the week before Guy Fawkes Night, London's peaceful streets break out in sudden unrest.  Enraged by a scandal involving a corrupt financier accused of insider trading, demonstrators are rioting outside the Findersbury Private Bank, chanting, marching, and growing violent.  But when someone hurls a Molotov cocktail at the bank's front door, killing a homeless man on its steps, Bryant, May, and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in.  Is this an act of protest gone terribly wrong?  Or a devious, premeditated murder?

Their investigation heats up when a second victim is reported dead in similar fiery circumstances.  May discovers the latest victim has ties to the troubled bank, and Bryant refuses to believe this is mere coincidence.  As the riots grow more intense and the body count climbs, Bryant and May hunt for a killer who's adopting incendiary methods of execution, on a snaking trail of clues with roots in London's history of rebellion, anarchy, and harsh justice.  Now, they'll have to throw themselves in the line of fire before the entire investigation goes up in smoke.


Arthur Bryant and John May are two senior detectives in the Peculiar Crimes Unit.  By senior, I mean that they are both getting on in years - but that doesn't mean either of them can't do their job.  In fact, they are both very good at what they do.  And what they are doing right now is trying to solve another peculiar case that has come their way:  Anger is awash the streets of London; the city is in the midst of riots due to a corrupt financier accused of insider trading.  One night, someone hurls a Molotov cocktail at a bank, inadvertently killing a homeless man.  Or was it?  Bryant isn't so sure once he sees the site.  And when another man is murdered shortly after, burned to death, but in a different way, he's positive that this was no accident, and is going to find the truth no matter what it takes.  But the killer doesn't stop there, and Bryant is hot on the trail of a would-be serial killer.

Okay, I've made my pun because this is a very intense book and is not for those who expect a light-hearted read.  The deaths are gruesome and some uncomfortable to read, but once drawn in you will not be able to put the book down, because there are the whys and wherefores that need to be answered, and wondering what could cause someone go to such lengths to create this mayhem and murder.

But the killer is an elusive sort, and there are things that don't make sense to the detectives.  For example, why was the homeless man killed?  He was identified as one Freddy Weeks, and doesn't seem to have any bearing on the case at all.  And they know that there was no way anyone could have missed him in that doorway, so the killer knew that he was there.  Yet he was the first, and he was connected to the rest, Bryant is sure of it...

Arthur Bryant is getting on in years, and he's keeping secrets.  He's just as good a detective as he ever was, and is able to see the puzzle and put the pieces together.  But  John May is starting to worry about him; so much so, that he asks another officer, Janice Longstreet, if she will help keep track of Bryant when he himself isn't able to.  Even though she agrees and does her best, Bryant seems to know what they're trying to do and manages to escape every now and then by himself.  But he always finds his way back, and he always comes with information related to the case.  There are those who think that Bryant and May are getting too old to do the work they do, but many know that the PCU would be lost without them and their particular way of solving crimes.

There are several subplots going on - Bryant's secrets, May's love life, Longstreet's dreams, etc., and these add to the story and make it real somehow, giving a depth to characters that might otherwise remain one-dimensional, without detracting from the main story.  And when Bryant sends his superior Land into an unfamiliar situation, you begin to wonder what the reasoning is until, of course, Bryant makes everything clear.

The methods of this unit are not always the tried and true - in fact, it seems none of it is tried and true - but the methods work, nonetheless.  Bryant merely tells people what he wants them to do, and they do it, regardless of how bizarre and outlandish it might seem to do so; because, as everyone knows, Bryant and May get results.

When all is revealed at the end, and the pieces are put together, you can see how in the killer's mind, it all made sense.  Bryant had no doubt he was on the right trail, and if you follow along with him, you will be also.  With the ending, we see what a twisted mind is capable of.

I'm not going to tell you this was an easy read; it wasn't.  Mr. Fowler does not write "easy reads," but he writes very good ones.  Bryant and May have been with us a very long time (this is book #12) and they grow on you and you become involved in their lives and their history.  I am never disappointed in these books.  Highly recommended.

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