Christopher Fowler writes one of my favorite book series. The series is known both as the Bryant and May mysteries as well as the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries. I have noticed, as I have recommended the series to many people, that readers seem to be along the lines of “love it or hate it” and that there don’t seem to be any in between opinions. Admittedly I find the books to be unique and it would take a certain kind of person to enjoy them. Just look at the quote on the book cover above. Deadpan and sly. You would never find the series under a “feel good” header. But I digress…
Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives based out of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. The Unit was founded, if memory serves, during WWII out of the government’s desire to keep local, but odd, criminal activity out of the public eye. They did so by giving publicly sensitive cases with the potential to cause mass panic to the specialized and “experimental” unit called the Peculiar Crimes Unit. In one of the prior books in the series it is joked that the unit was originally called the Particular Crimes Unit and only ended up being called Peculiar by accident and joke.
The two main characters, Arthur Bryant and John May, in the case of the seventy-seven clocks are looking back at a case from their past. A very well to-do family with pedigree and influence, the Whitstables, have become the focus of a string of murders. We start with the death of a family lawyer, Max Jacob, who was murdered quietly in the lobby of a posh hotel. The detectives must figure who and/or what killed him as he died alone in plain sight of the entire hotel lobby.The quiet public killing is a confusing curiosity to our detectives.
The initial killing is followed by the deaths of three members of the Whitstable family. William, Peter, and their sister Bella. William is blown up in a public place without harming any of the people who are physically near to him, Peter’s throat is cut at the barber’s in the same posh hotel as the business man was killed in, and Bella is poisoned at a play surrounded by at least a dozen people including Mr. Bryant. How are these deaths occurring and what is their motive?
We follow Arthur Bryant and John May as they wade through the case, digging up clues with the help of a mildly annoying teen. You get absorbed as a young child of the Whitstable family is kidnapped, become disturbed when another family member is attacked within the family mausoleum, and either gasp in shock or are utterly bewildered by the cause and purpose of these deaths.
The conclusion is most entertaining and positively weird, so I won’t give it up here. Overall, the book is fascinating. My only real complaint is the annoyance factor of the teenage girl that helps Bryant and May on and off throughout the story. Honestly, what teenage girl isn’t a bit of an annoyance from time to time, though.
Consider reading the rest of the Bryant and May series:
- Full Dark House
- The Water Room
- The Ten Second Staircase
- The White Corridor
- The Victoria Vanishes
- On The Loose
- Off the Rails
- The Memory of Blood
- The Invisible Code
- The Bleeding Heart
- The Burning Man
- The Secret Santa (short story)