Bryant &May;May – England’s Finest by Christopher Fowler – 12 stories of Peculiar Cases
This is a book of “Lost Cases from the Peculiar Crimes Unit” – short stories that deal with the strange crimes investigated by the unique group of Police officers and support staff that work independently of the ordinary police. Such a force works with eccentric methods on cases that no one else understands, let alone can solve. There is a Chief, known as Land, who has little understanding of what is actually going on. Arthur Bryant is the Detective Chief Inspector whose eccentricities, ideas and leaps of understanding are the main force in the success of the Unit, even though statistics and sentencing those responsible is not always his concern. He is aided and abetted by the other Detective Chief Inspector, John May, whose approach is more considered but often equally effective. Together with Longbright, Mangeshkar and others, they tackle the crimes that defy easy explanation, where death and destruction have taken place. Based in London, many of the crimes featured in this enjoyable, sometimes bewildering but always intriguing book are sometimes based on the legends and stories that still linger in the city.
I really enjoyed this collection of twelve short stories, featuring characters made known in fifteen other novels and another collection. As this is my first experience of a Bryant & May novel I can definitely say it is a good introduction to the concept of this unique crime solving duo. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this strange and wonderful group of stories.
The first story concerns a mysterious assault on a singer on Christmas day, involving a large reindeer and mysterious tracks in the snow. Jewellers and a postman occupy some exciting and exasperating stories, which make much of the setting of houses, flats and the other buildings which dominate the area around the building surrounding the Peculiar Crimes Unit building. Religious preachers and ladies of various types feature heavily in stories based on humourous and varied characters, superbly drawn by Fowler. These stories represent a thorough knowledge and extensive research into the highways and byways of London. A sometimes outrageous imagination powers some of these stories, one of which has a very different location in a well known castle. These stories are not always based on positive ideas; people die for strange reasons and Bryant and May are sometimes forced to take the most equitable course. There is a story which features one of the women officers to great effect to balance things out. The longest story dwells heavily on the inequalities of resources between America and Britain, and questions of identity.
This is a book of stories which do not dwell for long on the intricacies of plot and evidence but reveal a sound knowledge of law and practice, even when they are somewhat subverted. The format of isolated stories works well in that while some situations may not be of particular interest to a reader, another will definitely grab attention. The scarf wearing technophone Bryant can irritate, dazzle and dismay his colleagues and the reader, but always either gets an explanation for the most amazing situations, or enables someone else to reach a conclusion. The general atmosphere is light despite the crimes and misdemeanours which thread through the book. The tone is revealed by the cover quote “These twelve crimes must be solved without the help of modern technology, mainly because nobody knows how to use it”. If you have ever wondered about this unusual series of novels, this book provides an excellent self contained introduction to the detectives and some of their cases.