Bryant & May and the Burning Man – Christopher Fowler

“But it’s the Peculiar Crimes Unit that prevents panic on the streets. We handle the cases that have the capacity to bring this city down.”

I haven’t read all the Peculiar Crimes Unit novels yet, but I’m definitely working on it. They’ve been on my List since I stumbled onto Full Dark House years ago; one fine day I’m just going to line them all up in a figurative row and read from cover to cover to cover etc. This one? This one had everything that made me a fan of the books from the very beginning, in spades. Full house. Full dark house, you could say. (See what I did there? Spades – dark … ok, moving on.)

I am beginning to realize that the authors that click with me the most have a few things in common. I mean, sure, they’re all chock full of good writing and that sort of thing. That’s good for four stars (and my everlasting gratitude for knowing grammar and making use of an editor). What edges some into the five-star stratosphere, what puts them on my List? There are a few things.

1) They’re smart.
‘Do you enjoy reading?’
‘I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey.’
Bryant quailed at the thought. ‘That’s not really reading, is it? More like staring at an assortment of words.’
‘It is very popular.’
‘So is taking photographs of your dinner for Facebook, but that doesn’t mean it adds to the total sum of human knowledge.’

2) They add to the total sum of this human’s knowledge.
‘Experts argue that Rembrandt filled his painting with symbols and hidden layers of meaning, the so-called Fifty-one Mysteries. Ostensibly it’s a portrait of a Dutch militia company, so who is the ghost figure, why are there five light sources, why is the soldier behind the central characters firing a musket into the middle of the crowd, stuff like that.’

3) They use Shakespeare – in a good way.
‘How will we know if—’
‘… You won’t. That’s why it’s called the Hamlet Tactic.’

4) They expand my already weird lexicon of words and phrases that I do or just really want to introduce into conversation.
“I wouldn’t trust you to take a banana trifle around to my mum’s”

5) They make me see things in new ways.
‘Everything is connected, the riots, the deaths, all of it,’ Bryant insisted. ‘Like Herodotus, we can’t understand the histories of kings without first knowing about the Three Dynasties of the Earth. The Taming of the Shrew came from A Thousand and One Nights. Columbus’s belief in Eden led him to the Orinoco. Christopher Wren led us via the Freemasons to George Washington. And without Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black would never have had a hit.’

6) They use marvelous metaphors and similes.
The sky was the colour of a bad sprain.

7) They make me laugh, and even laugh out loud.
‘Ah, yes. The cat peed in my pocket, but they should be all right,’ Bryant explained.

8) They often don’t take themselves very seriously. In the PCU novels, for example, anything and everything can be a target of skewering, including the cast of characters.
“… She believed that the Lord was working through her to save his soul, although as the years passed she had come to the realisation that there was little chance of Bryant’s soul or indeed any other part of him being saved unless it was in a jar of formaldehyde at the Hunterian Museum, where his remains would serve as a grim warning to others.”

9) They agree with my way of thinking.
‘And the Internet hasn’t helped. God forbid you express your beliefs online, someone will shout “hater” at you, and that’s your Socratic discourse brought to a flogging end.’

10) They disagree with my way of thinking.
(Not going to spoil anything here; suffice to say there was a certain tone in talking about certain people which felt more positive than I could ever bring myself to be.)

11) They inspire a fierce loyalty and caring for the main characters, even the second tier.
…I didn’t save an example of this bit, and I won’t go looking for one, again for fear of spoilers. Just trust me on this one.

12) The really good ones do #1 and #2 all in the space of a page. Or a handful of lines.
‘You’re a misanthropist.’
Bryant was outraged. ‘I am not, I just don’t like people! They’re messy and inconsistent and incompetent and never say what they mean, and when you’ve finally figured out what makes them tick they die on you.’

Bonus points: They have a geeky edge.
Pub: the Ship and the Enterprise
(If that’s not actually geeky, I’m still taking it that way.)

Super extra credit bonus points: They’re snarky about Peter *&#! Jackson.
‘I want to see if they’re able to milk any more films out of The Lord of the Rings.’
(And what do they mean “after Smaug turned gold”? Smaug changed color? Where exactly in the book did Smaug change color??)

I received this from Netgalley for an honest review.

This entry was posted in books, mystery and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bryant & May and the Burning Man – Christopher Fowler

  1. I had to come back and thank you. On the strength of this review, I read the book. Although, I’m not sure my husband and son would consider your tip a kindness, as they had to listen a great many excerpts. It was smart and funny, which is more rare than it should be.

  2. stewartry says:

    This is a classic case of “sorry/not sorry”. I’m glad you let me know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s