Book review: Bryant & May: The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler
The Burning Man, the twelfth book in Christopher Fowler’s successful and highly popular Bryant & May series of detective novels came out yesterday. Although friends praise the series and recommend them to me, I’d never read one until this week. Here’s what the latest instalment in their case files is all about:
London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.
But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.
Using their network of eccentric contacts, elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May hunt down a murderer who adopts incendiary methods of execution. But they soon find their investigation taking an apocalyptic turn as the case comes to involve the history of mob rule, corruption, rebellion, punishment and the legend of Guy Fawkes.
At the same time, several members of the PCU team reach dramatic turning points in their lives – but the most personal tragedy is yet to come, for as the race to bring down a cunning killer reaches its climax, Arthur Bryant faces his own devastating day of reckoning.
‘I always said we’d go out with a hell of a bang,’ warns Bryant.
Is this the final Bryant & May adventure? Well, I hope not, having only just discovered them. But if it is, I can console myself with the fact that I haven’t read the previous eleven books in the series.
I’m not usually one to dive in to a series out of sequence – I like to start at the beginning and work through all other existing books first – and I admit I was a little nervous that there would be too many in jokes or references to previous cases or people for me to follow this twelfth case but I needn’t have worried at all. I found it easy to get a handle on the characters and their different traits without it ever feeling as if Christopher Fowler was regurgitating information he’d given readers in his earlier books.
Bryant & May’s twelfth case is both topical and timely: a bank collapse and insider trading are going on behind boardroom doors while someone plots a series of murders under cover of protests and rioting on the streets of London. I enjoyed the contemporary storyline and cultural references very much but especially liked how Christopher Fowler enriches these with Bryant’s historical facts and anecdotes. It gave this reader a real sense of how a city like London changes and adapts while retaining elements of everything it’s been through; that a city is made up of its lifetime of experiences, just as we are.
I also really liked that Christopher Fowler achieves just the right balance between telling a convincing and gripping story and keeping the reader guessing as to who was behind the deaths, and why; the quirkiness of Bryant, especially, and May, and the unit of oddball detectives with whom they work; and his rich humour, which seems so casual and offhand but cuts right to the quick and mocks our modern society.
The Burning Man works really well as a stand-alone but I’m willing to bet that you’ll probably want to read more about the Peculiar Crimes Unit and the eccentric pairing of its senior detectives Bryant & May as soon as you’ve finished reading it, if, like me, this is your introduction to that world. I’m happy to have finally found time to read one of the series while also being a little frustrated that I didn’t come to the series earlier. On the plus side, I have a whole eleven cases to keep me out of trouble until such time as Bryant & May’s next case lands them in some. Happy Reading!
Bryant & May: The Burning Man is the twelfth novel in Christopher Fowler’s series of books about the Peculiar Crimes Unit detectives and is published by Doubleday. To find out more about Christopher Fowler visit his Author Website or Follow Him on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy through NetGalley.