Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: 'Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart' by Christopher Fowler

In his popular Bryant & May novels, Christopher Fowler amuses us while offering intriguing tidbits about the history and geography of London. Fowler's latest, "Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart," finds the dapper John May and the scruffy Albert Bryant up to their ears in death, larceny, and resurrection. A corpse appears to rise from his grave; a young man finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time; and a daring heist threatens England's tourist industry. Raymond Land, the Peculiar Crime Unit's Chief, warns Arthur: "I don't want you running around like a superannuated Harry Potter spreading insurrection...."

With tongue firmly in cheek, Fowler pokes fun at exasperating bureaucratic jargon (Orion Banks, the Public Liaison Officer who holds the fate of the PCU in her hands, is a corporate type who favors "hard-nosed young go-getters" and speaks in unintelligible jargon). She has little use for an "old fossil" like Arthur Bryant. Nevertheless, for all of his eccentricity and maddening habits, Arthur remains an invaluable asset, thanks to his keen intuition, wide-ranging contacts, and vivid imagination. Banks, however, is not pleased with Arthur and his cohorts, since she dismisses them as incompetent and too slow to wrap up high-profile cases.

Bryant is oblivious to external pressure and sticks to his tried and true methods: smoking a smelly pipe, digging into obscure and musty tomes, conferring with people on the fringes of society, and drawing conclusions that some would consider preposterous. A few elements are inadequately developed. For example, a voluptuous intern joins the unit for a few weeks and turns heads, but we see very little of her as the book progresses. In addition, everyone who knows anything of importance lies to the detectives, which prolongs the story considerably. The plot, to put it mildly, is wildly convoluted and ridiculously far-fetched.

However, most fans are likely to overlook these flaws because it is such a pleasure to observe the irascible Arthur Bryant work on knotty problems with his partner, the intelligent and organized John May. The two are ably assisted by the hardworking DS Janice Longbright, pathologist Giles Kershaw, and the rest of their dedicated team. Although the PCU headquarters is leaky, overrun by kittens, and would not pass a sanitation or fire inspection, the intrepid members of this specialized group resolutely tackle whatever challenges they face. In "Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart," the author invites us to play amateur sleuth, shares arcane facts about a city steeped in legend and folklore, and makes us laugh out loud. Fans of offbeat British mysteries will enjoy Bryant & May's tireless efforts to foil malefactors, minimize public distress, and keep their beloved city free of violence and mayhem. (Four and a half stars)

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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