Fowler, Christopher - 'White Corridor'
Over the course of his series featuring his elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, Christopher Fowler has displayed a splendid talent for tricky plotting, as well as for strong characterization and considerable humour. But he outdoes himself in this most recent of the lot, with a bravura display of fair play detection and glorious misdirection.
For the first time, Bryant and May are not in London, but stuck in a blizzard on Dartmoor on their way to the International Spiritualists Convention in Plymouth (don't ask). Not surprisingly, elsewhere in the tail of stranded vehicles is a possible serial killer. More surprisingly, while they are away, a member of the PCU team has been found dead on the premises, probably murdered, in a room that appears to have been firmly fastened from the inside. Thus two staples of Golden Age detective fiction are at play - the locked room and the murder scene isolated by foul weather. Only May's mobile phone is a contemporary intrusion.
The members of the team left in London, all of whom are naturally suspects, must solve the mystery of their colleague's death without the physical presence of their mentors and even without their close guidance - Bryant, in particular, is feeling his years and would like to leave behind him a crime unit that can continue his idiosyncratic approach to detection in an age increasingly dependent on technology and working by the book. The books he works by are more likely to have titles like 'Code-Breaking in Braille', 'Sumerian Religious Beliefs and Legends', or Colonic Exercises for Asthmatics' than 'Best Interrogation Practices'. He is willing to provide DS Janice Longbright with some solid hints on how to proceed, but it is up to her to come to the right conclusion.
He does, after all, have other things to occupy him. Though so old that "most of his lifetime subscriptions have expired", he still finds himself having to slog through snowdrifts along with his partner in pursuit of a killer who may be bent on taking out any number of stranded drivers along the road.
It is very hard to classify these novels. With their mix of eccentricity, gentle mysticism, and mordant humour, they are genuinely unlike anything else. Perhaps we could settle for 'police anti-procedural', but that would be to ignore their solid roots in the Golden Age of the Detection Club. Probably the best thing is simply to read them and enjoy.
Yvonne Klein, Canada