Bryant & May On the Loose, the seventh book in Christopher Fowler’s series featuring two ageing London detectives and a host of London local history, rather reminds me of an old favourite, slightly faded, coat.
All the familiar successful elements of this series that pays homage to the classic form of crime novels are here. Present in a familiar, comfortable and muted form. We get humorous interplay between the detectives Arthur Bryant and John May – but not too much. We get once again a threat to their police unit – the Peculiar Crimes Unit – which now seems as regular a feature of these books as Arthur Bryant meeting a witch. We get that too again in this book, though only as a tangential detail. His escapades investigating crime via consulting spiritualists, lovers of esoteric knowledge and reference books continue once more as the pair are faced with a series of beheaded corpses found around Kings Cross.
Back again too are obscures corners of London’s local history, fleshing out the plot. This time, however, they are not that central to it (unlike, say, The Water Room). And so on through the other regular features of the series: all present, all not quite so sharp or vital as in previous volumes.
The poignant twist near the end most rewards long-term readers of the series. If you have followed the characters through several previous volumes, the way one of Bryant’s regular crime-solving quirks produces a tragic turn of events has a strong emotional kick. For those newer to the series, I suspect it will come over rather more as the near-inevitable twist you expect as a crime novel nears its ends; less moving as it fills an expected plot purpose.
As a result, if you are new to the Bryant & May series, I’d be tempted to start at an earlier volume even though they do not need to be read in order.
Once again, the audio version is narrated by Tim Goodman, a tremendous bonus, a tremendous bonus especially the way he voices the different characters so the large cast is never confusing..