Come for the characters, stay for the mystery. That sums up the brilliantly conceived and wonderfully executed Bryant & May series. Arthur Bryant and John May are the senior detectives of the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU), a branch of London’s police force that is regarded by the powers-that-be as an anachronistic but nonetheless unfortunately necessary embarrassment. Bryant and May have been detectives since World War II, which makes them very seasoned citizens. Sometimes they’re forgetful or erratic, but they remind me of that unlabeled box in the attic that is fun to shake open on occasion just to see what falls out. What often falls out during the course of any investigation is a veritable cornucopia of arcane information about metropolitan London.
Even if you care not a whit for British mysteries, or mysteries in general, you should read every installment of this series, simply for the factoids about London that author Christopher Fowler scatters like breadcrumbs throughout the narrative. They are by turns hilarious and horrific, shot through with droll humor that jumps out at you unexpectedly and then quickly exits as mayhem quietly ensues.
"Fans will find much to love in THE INVISIBLE CODE, not the least of which is the introduction of a character near the end of the book, who may (or may not) bear an influence upon future installments."
This latest addition begins with the death of a young woman in a London church, a death of unknown cause for a seemingly unknown reason. It is just the type of investigation for which the PCU lives and, of course, can’t get to save its life. Literally. What occurs, though, is that they are assigned an even more puzzling case from an even more surprising source.
Oskar Kasavian, the head of Home Office security, has been a thorn in the side of the PCU in its modern incarnation, and as a result, the PCU has existed more in spite of him than because of him. So Bryant and May are stunned when they are summoned to Kasavian’s office and hear him humbly beg for their assistance. His wife, Sabira, has been behaving oddly for weeks, alleging that evil and unseen forces are pursuing her with deadly intent. These spells (if that’s what they are) could not be happening at a worse time, given that Kasavian is on the verge of presenting a national security plan that will make important changes in the framework of Britain’s defense and against terrorism. Kasavian’s career and marriage hinge on the success of the CPU.
The incentive for Bryant and May is that if they are successful, the CPU will be granted full and official status as a department by the City of London. They undertake the investigation, taking jurisdiction of the church death in the bargain.
Predictably enough, the CPU’s investigation demonstrates that the two cases are related, even as the trail leads to unpredictable places --- from the alleys of the least fortunate to the clubs of the most privileged --- with several stops in between, historically and hysterically. Clues come from unexpected sources, from the quick and the dead (mostly from the latter), and the team follows several blind and false trails before ultimately uncovering an evil force that has been at work for years and that potentially will tip the balance of power politically in England and beyond.
Fans will find much to love in THE INVISIBLE CODE, not the least of which is the introduction of a character near the end of the book, who may (or may not) bear an influence upon future installments. It is hard to imagine this series getting any better than it currently is, but it appears that the best is yet to come. Jump on now if you haven’t already.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 20, 2013