Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review: 'Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery' by Christopher Fowler

Review by Susan Grigsby

Our first international trip was to the UK in May of 2001. It was before September 11th, and the mood was much different than it was when we returned a few years later. But on that first trip, everything was so exciting. The first day was spent at the Tate Gallery and then walking down to Westminster. The second day was spent at the Tower of London. I had read for years about this place and had been looking forward to seeing the Traitor's Gate and the legendary ravens that occupied the Tower Green. It was a spring weekday and the crowds were minimal, even around the Crown Jewels. We were very lucky to be able to spend time just watching the ravens.

Their wings are clipped so they cannot fly away, but they can bite, or at least the signs warn visitors. Legend has it that if the Tower is ever without its ravens, England will fall. They are pretty big birds, so when I heard that Christopher Fowler's latest entry in his long-running series included the disappearance of these symbols of Great Britain I knew I would want to read it.
‘Christopher Fowler is an award-winning novelist who would make a good serial killer. He’s charming and English and lives in a glass box with a view of St Paul’s Cathedral, and you’d think butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth until you read his outrageously dark urban fiction. He has written over thirty books, mainly comprising novels and volumes of short stories. His work divides into black comedy, horror, satire, mystery and a set of tales unclassifiable enough to have publishers tearing their hair out.’ - Time Out
Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery
by Christopher Fowler
Published by Bantam
December 2nd 2014
400 pages

Before I even get into the story I have to pause and praise the narrator of the audiobook, Tim Goodman. His voice was so perfect that I could see the characters in it. One of the best jobs of differentiating voices that I have heard in an audiobook. Outstanding job.
This is number eleven in the series about two elderly gentlemen, Bryant and May, who work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. Recently transferred from the Met to the City of London, the Unit has a new overseer who finds their peculiar way of doing things all wrong. Since the City of London is the square mile located in the center of greater London, and encompasses most of London's financial district, it should be no surprise that the new boss wants the unit run as only an MBA would want it run.
But this is a unit that is overrun by black kittens and strange detectives, headed up by an ineffectual man named Land who is routinely ignored and often insulted by Bryant. Arthur Bryant is one of those special characters in literature that must be a joy to write, although I am not sure I would want him rattling around in my head unaccompanied. Crotchety, stubborn and with a tendency toward chaos and disheveled attire, he solves crimes the old-fashioned way. His partner, John May is also elderly, but a much more "by the book" type of detective.
In The Bleeding Heart, two teenagers, gazing at the stars from the darkness of a city park, which is also an abandoned cemetery, are startled by the appearance of a man rising from his grave who then speaks. They flee. The following evening the young man is killed in a hit-and-run accident. But between the time he is last seen alive and when his body is found on the sidewalk, someone has changed his shirt. Who? Why?
Peculiar indeed, and Bryant is heartily detecting the strange events when the new overseer of the unit, Orion Banks (she of the MBA) pulls him off of the case and assigns him to find out what happened to the seven ravens of the Tower Green. They have disappeared and she wants them found. Now. As I write this, I am watching one of two ravens that have claimed this territory, circling the desert outside my window. Ravens are big birds. How can seven of them all vanish at once?
This novel has so much - a convincing mystery or two or three - a cast of characters that are bizarrely engaging, cats, and multiple tales of London history. The history is painless and well-worked into the story. As the mysteries work their way toward a satisfying resolution, any holes in the plot are covered by the wit of the writing that makes it such a pleasure to read. The dialogue so well written that I was surprised that this has not yet been made into a BBC television series.
This may be book number eleven in the series, but I had no problem with it as a stand alone novel. I did enjoy it enough to download the first entry,  Full Dark House and plan on listening to that one next. From Goodreads:
Edgy, suspenseful, and darkly comic, here is the first novel in a riveting new mystery series starring two cranky but brilliant old detectives whose lifelong friendship was forged solving crimes for the London Police Department's Peculiar Crimes Unit. In Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler tells the story of both their first and last case--and how along the way the unlikely pair of crime fighters changed the face of detection.
A present-day bombing rips through London and claims the life of eighty-year-old detective Arthur Bryant. For his partner John May, it means the end of a partnership that lasted over half-a-century and an eerie echo back to the Blitz of World War II when they first met. Desperately searching for clues to the killer's identity, May finds his old friend's notes of their very first case and becomes convinced that the past has returned...with a killing vengeance.  
So be prepared to hear more about this pair of peculiar detectives of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. There is nothing I enjoy more than finding a series with so many entries for me to look forward to reading.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here.