Review

Bryant & May on the Loose: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

by Christopher Fowler

Arthur Bryant and John May are the senior detectives of the
Peculiar Crimes Unit. Actually, make that the former
Peculiar Crimes Unit. The PCU (of which Bryant and May have been
members since World War II) has been disbanded --- at least in the
de facto sense --- as of the beginning of BRYANT & MAY
ON THE LOOSE. Its cases, some of which are documented within the
pages of the six volumes that precede this one (and many others
that are only alluded to), are the most eccentric that the city of
London has ever experienced, equally grounded more often than not
in the distant past and the immediate present. The success of the
PCU in solving them has become something of an embarrassment to the
London police as well.

Then there’s the unique oil and water chemistry of the
PCU’s senior detectives. Bryant is unable to remember where
his shoes are, yet he can recall the most arcane fact regarding the
Roman occupation of Britain, who fought in what war and where, and
all the legends that have arisen in their wake. May is more
thoroughly grounded in traditional police work. There is no room
for either of them in the 21st century. Bryant is more or less put
to pasture while the rest of the team finds itself cashiered out as
well and begins looking for different work in other fields.

So it is that BRYANT & MAY ON THE LOOSE becomes a perfect
jump-on point for those unfamiliar with this excellent series of
novels by Christopher Fowler, which combine historical esoteria,
sharp characterization and droll humor sprinkled seemingly at a
frequency of one chip per paragraph and baked into a puzzling,
intriguing mystery. The mystery in this case is the discovery of a
headless corpse in the freezer of an abandoned shoppe. The crime is
disturbing enough, yet it is the location of the body ---
King’s Cross, the British gateway to the 2012 Olympics ---
that causes the Metropolitan Police and the British government to
consider the unthinkable: the reunion of the PCU.

When yet another headless body is found, accompanied by a
detached head belonging to a different corpse --- and on a
construction site, no less --- it causes the government to
reluctantly (and unofficially) bring the PCU back together. Bryant
remains the only holdout, content to live the life of a recluse
among his arcane books and almost indescribable souvenirs. But he
is drawn back into the thick of things only by the reported
sighting of a man dressed as a stag carrying off a young woman. For
him, the occurrence relates back to the origins of King’s
Cross and, in ways that are clear only to himself, the discovery of
the mutilated bodies that threaten to unearth the plans of
Europe’s largest commercial developmental renaissance.

And he is right, of course, though not entirely how he
originally thought. As Bryant goes from being a reluctant
participant to an extremely active pursuer of the truth, the reader
is treated to a tour de force of the history and legends of one of
the world’s greatest cities, even as the PCU closes in on an
extremely dangerous criminal whose intentions are both far more and
less than previously believed. A chilling climax provides the PCU
not only with one of its greatest successes, but also with its
greatest failures.

BRYANT & MAY ON THE LOOSE marks a profound change, even in
their reunion, for the PCU. It is safe to say that, by the end of
the book, the team, though together, will never be the same again,
and at least one member will be unexpectedly single-minded in their
pursuit of justice. Now is the time to start reading this unique,
addicting and well-written series if you are not doing so
already.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 23, 2010

Bryant & May on the Loose: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery
by Christopher Fowler

  • Publication Date: September 14, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553386514
  • ISBN-13: 9780553386516