Fowler, Christopher - 'Bryant & May on the Loose'
The seventh title in Christopher Fowler's series begins with London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, headed up by the dapper John May and less-than-presentable Arthur Bryant, in a state of limbo, having been put on indefinite suspension by the Home Office. They have lost their Mornington Crescent home, have no official status, and are not receiving pay pending a review of their recent activities.
Reluctantly but inevitably, the team members begin to drift away into new jobs, until PC Colin Bimsley, renovating a chip shop on the Caledonian Road, stumbles across a headless body in a fridge, giving the team a case to rally around and one last chance to revive the PCU.
Even so, not even John May can rouse Arthur Bryant from his depression – until, that is, PC Meera Mangeshkar is attacked on a King's Cross building site by a man dressed as a stag. This is a suitably bizarre event for him to get his dentures into and he swings into action immediately.
Operating from a new temporary HQ, and without official back-up, access to technology, or even a budget, the team must work to solve the mystery of the stag-man and find the King's Cross executioner. At stake is the future of the major regeneration project in King's Cross, the new gateway to the UK since the completion of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras. The Home Office wants everything wrapped up neatly before investors begin to lose confidence, work stops, and the area drifts back into its traditional decrepitude.
The clues lead the team through the history of King's Cross from Boudicca onwards, taking in Celtic beheadings, the green man, the oldest church in Britain, nineteenth-century Satanists, the Blitz, and modern-day property deals. Bryant's interest in the esoteric continually annoys his more prosaic colleagues, but makes fascinating reading: "if we're to survive this, I need to do something practical and useful. I think I need to see a witch".
This is an addictive series, and although ON THE LOOSE may not be the best place to start, it is still an enjoyable read and gives the flavour of the books. The finale sets the scene for the next in the series, BRYANT & MAY OFF THE RAILS, which can be read immediately as it is already published.
Finally, an honourable mention for the atmospheric cover art from David Frankland, which, as ever, sets the tone for the book.
Rich Westwood, England