Review: Bryant & May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

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Bryant and May are back in the twelfth installment of Christopher Fowler’s long running series which finds the detectives of the Peculiar Crimes Unit investigating a bizarre series of murders leading up to Guy Fawkes Night.  The problems begin when a London banker is accused of insider trading at the Findersbury Private Bank.  This causes bad publicity for the bank and enormous losses for its clientele but it is also connected to a more grievous turn of events.  As Bryant points out, “[t]here’s nothing more frightening than watching what people do when they start to lose money.”  In this case, they start protesting in the streets.  Soon these mobs become a flash point of social and political unrest and the protesters grow more vocal and violent.  When a homeless man is killed on the steps of the bank by a Molotov cocktail, it appears he is an accidental victim of the mob’s violence.  Bryant and May, however,  suspect otherwise and begin investigating the case.  When a second man is murdered with burning tar and covered in feathers it is clear they are dealing with the mysterious agenda of a twisted murderer.  And when the murders continue coming one a day, the PCU fear they will culminate in some horrific event on Guy Fawkes Night.

The plot has its share twists and turns and the reveal is ultimately satisfying but the real meat on the bone of the book is the social and political commentary provided by Bryant and company on the state of modern society.  As one of Bryant’s friends notes, this is a society where you see “the urban middle class destroyed, the working poor exploited, the vulgar rich elevated to eminence, the underclass demonised [and] the wasteland of celebrity held in veneration.”  But as much as Bryant laments society’s current problems, as well as the loss of many London institutions, it is clear he would rather live in this world than give up on it.  During the course of the book, the reader becomes aware that Bryant is suffering from a medical condition which he valiantly tries to hide from May and the PCU.  But he can’t keep it a secret forever and when he finally confesses his condition to his friend he also enumerates a bucket list that is both funny and heart-wrenching.  In the hands of a different author this book might feel like a light mystery given its cast of quirky and endearing characters, but Fowler’s prose is clever and his use of British history throughout give it an enjoyable heft.  The book can be enjoyed on its own but this is a series that is well worthing reading from the beginning.

Bryant & May and the Burning Man, Bantam, 416 pp., $26.00.

 

New Book Releases: The Age of Reinvention, The Short Drop and The Man on the Washing Machine

A short round up of some new releases this month include a tale of a 21st century Gatsby, a political thriller and a quirky San Francisco mystery.

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Famous New York attorney Sam Tahar is living the American Dream: handsome, successful and married to an elite socialite with two children, he appears to have it all.  But his success has been built on a lie he told many years ago.  While in law school he and his best friend Samuel both fall in love with Nina.  After Nina chooses Samuel over him he leaves Paris for America and adopts the life story and origins of his best friend.  When the three unite twenty years later Sam’s lie is revealed and his perfect life begins too unravel.

The Age of Reinvention, Washington Square Press, 416 pp.

 

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The fourteen year old daughter of a powerful United States senator disappears and an intense nationwide search is conducted to find her.  Despite the relentless national attention the young girl is never found.  Ten years later, the senator, now the vice president, has launched a campaign to run for president.  When new information about the girl’s disappearance is uncovered, Gibson Vaughn, a hacker, is convinced by the senator’s former head of security to help find the girl. Vaughn agrees and during his investigation uncovers a dangerous conspiracy deep within the senator’s family that threatens everyone.

The Short Drop, Thomas & Mercer, 397 pp.

 

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Theophania Bogart, a reformed party girl, escapes London after a high-profile family tragedy erupts and attempts to create a new life for herself in San Francisco.  She appears to have found the perfect hiding place amongst her quirky and eccentric neighbors but as soon she settles into her new digs a series of murders force her out of hiding.  When she decides to investigate, things quickly get complicated when she realizes she has unwittingly been helping a smuggling operation.  The police don’t believe her, even after she is knocked out and imprisoned, and to make matters worse, her best friend appears to be the prime suspect.

The Man on the Washing Machine, Minotaur Books, 304 pp.