Monday, February 8, 2016

A peculiar detective for peculiar crimes

One of the best things about Bryant & May and the Burning Man, the latest in Christopher Fowler's series of Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, comes on the first page after the novel ends where we find the words, "BRYANT & MAY WILL RETURN." That's good news because throughout the novel Arthur Bryant, the aging London police detective, struggles with advancing dementia. He can get hopelessly lost within a block or two of his residence. Even so, backed up by his partner John May, hardly a young man himself, and the other members of his unit, Bryant gets his man.

Someone is using fire in a variety of ways to kill a victim each day during the week before Guy Fawkes Night. Meanwhile the streets of London are full of demonstrators. Is the killer one of them or is he using the civil unrest as cover for his crimes? What do the victims have in common? And why is fire the weapon of choice? Bryant, fitting for his department and the crimes he investigates, has a peculiar way of finding answers, but find them he does, even if he can forget where he lives.

The crimes may be horrendous, yet Fowler still manages to keep the novel's mood light. The usual subplot is that the police hierarchy wants to disband the unit. That threat is made more serious by Bryant's declining health. I've always found the books in this series become less interesting whenever Arthur Bryant leaves center stage. So it's encouraging that somehow Fowler plans to bring both Bryant and his unit back for at least one more adventure.

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