Pink Dog

The Victoria Vanishes: Bryant & May number 6

Arthur Bryant of the Peculiar Crimes Unit witnesses a woman walk into a pub, The Victoria, who is subsequently found murdered. There is but one problem with his eye-witness testimony of some of her last moments: when he returns to the location, the pub is not there and the site has been occupied for years by a shop.

In other words, this – the sixth book in Christopher Fowler’s series featuring Arthur Bryant and his colleague John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit – is once again an homage to the traditional English crime novel such as Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toy Shop, which featured a dead woman and a shop that is there and then isn’t.

The Victoria Vanishes contains many of the popular elements of the previous books in the series. It is firmly set in a London background, with this time the histories, locations and customers of London pubs providing much of the raw material for the plot and setting.

Arthur Bryant may have just about conquered his problems with technology, but once again we learn more about the regular characters as the plot develops. Much of John May’s family history is filled out, but to keep readers wanting more there are also a range of hints and names related to Bryant’s own family introduced for the first time.

Sometimes the number of references to events in previous books almost threatens to stifle this one, but Fowler skilfully navigates between providing enough free-standing information in the references for new readers to be able to follow the story whilst keeping it brief enough that for regular readers it does not sink into being a ‘best of’ highlights repeat show.

Fowler also once again shows his skill in coming up with a plausible explanation for the sort of narrative artefacts that an author often needs to keep the tension and mystery. This time round information is regularly withheld from the reader not out of the pure caprice of characters or by clichéd cutting between scenes but by Arthur Bryant in his old age struggling with his memory and only slowly remembering key facts as his memory classes begin to have an impact.

As the plot unfolds, the reader is taken into a world of an implausible conspiracy but, as with the conspiracy behind The Seventy-Seven Clocks, Fowler always plays fair with the reader as the Peculiar Crimes Unit follows a logical thread through the evidence, until eventually unearthing the full story – which is about much more than simply who carried out a murder in a disappearing pub.

As ever, the audio version is narrated by Tim Goodman – who once again shows how a really good narrator adds to the author’s text.

You can buy The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler from Amazon here.

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