The Invisible Code, the tenth book in Christopher Fowler’s excellent series on the ageing detectives from the Peculiar Crimes Unit, continues his lovely homage to the Golden Age of crime fiction.
This time the two detectives Bryant and May, are called in to help their bureaucratic nemesis, Oskar Kasavian, whose wife appears to be going mad and whose behaviour threatens his next big career move. What follows is the usual mix of mystery, cogitation, occasional dramatic action and playing fair to the reader by keeping to the story’s internal logic and making clues available. In this case, a clue to one of the major red herrings being just that is there in plain sight in the earlier dialogue but unless you’ve extremely sharp-eyed, you’ll almost certainly miss at the time that it was even a clue.
Whilst I felt that in the previous volume, The Memory of Blood, the series was showing its age a little, this time there’s rather more freshness about the plot, the newly introduced characters and the exposition of London history used as the backdrop to all the events. Bryant & May and The Invisible Code also features rather less mysticism than before, with Bryant once again consulting a witch when stumped but this time they both strongly hint that neither really believes in anything beyond advanced psychological expertise of the Derren Brown sort. Regardless, the mysticism is as ever part of Bryant’s engaging eccentricities rather than central to the plot or its explanation.
Bryant & May and The Invisible Code is bursting with references to London’s quaint and eccentric corners, including the Soane Museum (pictured) and with some beautiful descriptions but also a few factual errors creep in – which is something I had not really noticed before (other than a reference to the staircase at Hampstead tube station in Seventy-Seven Clocks though that may have been artistic license for a chase rather than an error over its huge length). The errors I have spotted this time are not serious – mixing up “A” and “The” in the name of a painting and an off-beam reference to the story behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations – and certainly do not detract from the plot unless you’re determined to find something you don’t like.
The plot is pretty much completely free-standing, with a few references back to one earlier volume in the series, but nothing that the reader has to know in order to follow The Invisible Code.
However, it also features the full range of usual characters from the series and many of them are introduced only briefly. If you are not already familiar with all their quirks and differences from reading previous books, you may well find the mass of different police characters rather confusing and hard to differentiate.
As ever, Tim Goodman’s audio narration is brilliant and his change of voices between the characters helps keep them all distinct, which is handy if you are newer to the cast.
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