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Bryant & May: Wild Chamber: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery


Bryant & May: Wild Chamber: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

One of my favorite things about the end of the calendar year is the all-but-certain appearance of a new Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) book. Christopher Fowler’s series provides an ensemble cast led by Arthur Bryant and John May, who, in turn, are supported by a number of steady, mildly quirky secondary characters. Fowler somehow makes the reader happy to see any of them on the page at any given moment, even as whoever is absent is missed.

How does he do that? And how has he done that, over the course of what is now 14 books, with the publication of WILD CHAMBER? The answer is that each volume of the series also provides a tantalizing, smart and clever mystery that beats at the story’s very core, the solution to which is found, at least in part, within the history and culture of London, one of the civilized world’s oldest and most interesting cities. The result is addicting in every sense of the word. Not everyone has read a PCU book, but if you do, I guarantee you will read all of them and eagerly wait for the next one, just as I do.

"Not everyone has read a PCU book, but if you do, I guarantee you will read all of them and eagerly wait for the next one, just as I do."

That said, Fowler, who is incapable of writing badly, somehow tops himself once again in WILD CHAMBER. The title takes its name from a term used to describe the integral units of London’s green space system, which is utilized at the beginning of the book to provide a variation on the mystery genre’s classic “locked room” puzzle. Suffice to say that the PCU, headed as always by Arthur Bryant and John May, are tasked from on high with solving the mystery of the murder of a woman in a London park. Their failure to do so immediately, as well as the occurrence of a second, similar murder, results in the threatened dissolution of the team (a common occurrence), as well as the execution of a plan to close the parks to the public and then reopen them on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Bryant and May, who have partnered on the police force since at least the Second World War (that fact, as well as their respective ages, is no longer mentioned), bring their own skill sets to the story. May is a bit more grounded, while Bryant brings to the table an off-the-charts data pattern recognition aptitude. More often than not, May plays straight man to Bryant’s ability to randomly pull out of his pockets candies and tobacco brands that have not been made for decades, as well as arcane facts and scattered London trivia out of his head.

The trivia occasionally escapes in the form of what are probably --- with Bryant, one never knows --- hallucinations in which he obtains the answer, or at least the hint of one, from a conversation with a long-deceased historical figure. It’s an interesting way to solve a mystery, and Fowler, in his own fashion, manages to make it plausible, as a killer methodically makes his way through a series of connected victims for seemingly no reason at all. Leave it to Bryant and May to ultimately discern the who and the why.

If I had my way, Fowler would be a household name, and Bryant and May, with their PCU colleagues, would have a fan base on the order of Doctor Who’s. Indeed, a television series has been discussed in the past but ultimately shelved. Maybe it’s time for a second look, or perhaps a graphic novel would be considered. Absent that, if you have even a remote interest in well-written, carefully plotted and delightfully populated mystery novels, you should be reading the PCU books, and I recommend you start with WILD CHAMBER. Seriously.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 15, 2017

Bryant & May: Wild Chamber: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery
by Christopher Fowler

  • Publication Date: December 5, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 1101887060
  • ISBN-13: 9781101887066