Bryant & May: London Bridge is Falling Down – Christopher Fowler

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is finally biting the dust for real. We know it’s true, because the Met has taken all government property from the ramshackle building on Caledonian Road and plans to make some money in the process, since the neighborhood is gentrifying fast. How will Arthur Bryant –keeper of arcane facts of London History; aging to the point he is no longer seen; defender of a cadre of special consultants, each with knowledge and original ways of approaching problems; who looks like a “testicle in a hat” — how will he save the PCU? He has no better idea than anyone else but he knows if they have an open case, he can delay, so he picks a death by natural causes from their pet forensic pathologist’s cases. Amelia Hoffman, a former intelligence worker sworn to lifelong silence about her work, dies alone at age 91. Bryant decides the PCU will investigate her death, which looks to be a horrible mixup in the government care safety net, that allowed her to die without food or water in a walk up apartment. He will “make” her death a murder for the PCU’s wellbeing. Meanwhile, Raymond Land has left for the Isle of Wight, per his best “it’s over email yet. “Our remit is as out of date as Mr. Bryant’s trousers.” “Let’s not say good-bye, but au revoir. On second thoughts, let’s say good-bye.” Then follows a twisty-turny mystery with all the clues present and all the red herrings full of old London history. John May is there to make an observation here and there, that adds direction to Bryant’s scattered-with-a-purpose thinking. Sydney Hargreaves, recently reunited with her mother Janice Longbright adds new perspective to the PCU. She sees Bryant as her mentor: she’s a fan. “Reaction to her arrival had been mixed; while everyone welcomed new blood, they also felt decrepit standing anywhere near her.” Rita Rondola, a Slavic car repair person who is learning English by reading an encyclopedia joins us, driving Bryant and May around for most of this investigation. Meera and Colin are still working out how to break it to her parents she’s planning to marry a cop when her being a cop has been enough of a shock to their expectations for her. If possible, the PCU breaks more rules and more laws than usual in “London Bridge is Falling Down,” having nothing to lose. And throughout, Fowler keeps up his usual witty, making me laugh hard when I need it the most repartee. A couple scenes take place in New York City. There are bodies. There is a villain, in the form of an overweight middle aged public school graduate son of a successful man who hates him, completely unlikeable and unsympathetic. We know that there’s some reason Arthur has saved tea chests full of old PCU records, temporarily stored on the roof. Every character and every thought and most of the repartee matters. I just figured out I WILL repurchase and reread the whole series and take pleasure in each of books 1-17 of the series once more now that I have better calibrated Fowler’s style and Bryant’s character. That these are straightforward mysteries solved in roundabout ways is not lost on the author or his Arthur. But it’s a lot more fun their way.

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