Bryant and May: The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

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Bryant and May: The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Another episode of crime silliness as the Peculiar Crime Unit (now under the jurisdiction of the City of London Police) set out to find out why a man should rise from the grave, why that should get a totally unrelated teenager killed, and who's nicked the Ravens from the Tower. Solid detecting in a world that might be scarily close to our own.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 381 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857522030

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The Bleeding Heart is the eleventh outing for Fowler's distinctive detectives from the Peculiar Case Unit. If you've been along for the ride so far you'll either have fallen in love with them or really not be able to see the joy of them. Either way, this review isn't going to tell you anything you don't already know, other than, yes, Fowler's still on form.

Forgive me then, if I address the rest of my thoughts to those who've yet to stumble into this backwater of the Metropolitan Police.

Except, it's the Met no more. The PCU has been transferred to the City of London police. Most people think of the Met when they think of policing in London and indeed the Metropolitan Police Force does have most of the responsibility for policing what we think of as London, but this is one of those areas where England does its best to emulate our transatlantic cousins and have a jurisdictional anomaly. Or should that be anachrony?

The City of London is a very precisely defined area. Once known as 'the square mile' because that is about what it covered, it is the old heart of the financial district. It has a workforce of about 300,000 and a resident population of about 7,400. Policing here is not what it might be elsewhere.

White-collar crime is obviously the big risk. Fraud. Insider trading. All the stuff that probably gets shunted up to the Serious Fraud Office or whatever has most recently replaced them.

The 750 full-time coppers of the 1.1 square miles (if we're going to be accurate) may be used to a quiet life.

Or they may not… but certainly, that was the notion that the PCU had when they heard they were being transferred from the Met. They thought that maybe, now, they'd get left alone to do what it is they do best.

They thought without Orion Banks.

Orion Banks isn't (as the local DS might have thought) an observatory, but the resident liaison officer with the power to determine what our heroes, Bryant and May, do and/or don't look into.

She also gets my 'name of the month' award! But that's by the by.

For those not familiar: Bryant and May are a mismatched couple of old-school detectives. And by old school we mean circa 1890. This is detecting the way Sherlock did it, wandering around making deductions, talking to the most unlikely people, especially those involved in the esoteric arts of herbalism or witchcraft, whilst also lurking around the morgue and hounding the M.E. at every available opportunity.

They are not going to take kindly to the business jargon of a pretty young middle-manager who thinks she can determine what they investigate. On the other hand, Bryant has a notion that she might have the capability to be peculiar. So if they just ignore her for a while, who knows…

Ignoring her is precisely what they all intend to do while investigating the two cases to hand.

First, and to the fore, is the case of the walking dead. A young man and his girl dip into St Georges Gardens for a spot of late-night star-gazing and are witness instead to a corpse rising out of its grave and walking. It also seems to have an interest in Ursa Minor, which makes even less sense.

So far, so Hammer Horror, as instigated by lying in the damp grass and smoking the dried kind.

But then… one of the witnesses is killed; mown down in the street. So what did they see when they nipped back into the cemetery?

Meanwhile, in another part of town, the Ravens have gone missing.

THE Ravens, you understand. The ones that guard the Tower of London and thereby the safety of the entire English Realm. Vanished. Without a trace of blood or feather. This could be the end of English civilisation as we know it. Or at least, the end of the career and current abode of a valiant ex-serviceman, current Warder, and long-time friend of our heroes.

By this point, even those of you not familiar with Fowler's dynamic duo will have got the point that this is just a whole pot of silliness.

And if you don't find an intrinsic delight in the very idea, then I'd probably have to say: don't go anywhere near this book.

But then, you won't have got this far through the review unless you share the relevant mindset both to appreciate the absurdity and to see how not completely disconnected it all is to what we call 'the real world'.

Fowler makes his stories work because for all their frolics and frivolousness, they are grounded both in plausibility in our actual real-life London and also in the unfortunate absurdity of our wider systems of operation. I wouldn't say for sure that I've heard someone stand in one of my management seminars saying exactly what Ms Orion Banks says to her uncomprehending officers – but I will own up to having found myself trying to write in a similar vein to get it past the powers that be!

The dark thread in his novels is well over-woven with light and laughter, but it is there if you care to look for it. There is a strand of real crime which is hateful, and cruel, and wrong, and which threatens the public in ways they might not appreciate. There are young people leading hopeless lives. And ethical businessmen and lawyers caught up in corruption beyond their means to manage or escape from.

But the light and laughter come not only from the parody of such horrors but also from taking genuine delight in English eccentricity. Many of the more bizarre characters he throws in our path may not really exist as pathfinders for our police forces, but they do exist. If you're lucky you will stumble across them.

And Fowler treats them kindly. He will let us enjoy their 'style' but never stoops to mocking their take on the world.

The result is a genuinely delightful olde-worlde-detective tale, shot through with a touch of acid.

He adheres to puzzle-genre rules. You can (if you're sad enough) read this a straightforward detective fiction. The clues and herrings are scattered in your path. Treat it as a Christie and it works.

To enjoy at its best, however, prepare yourself for a touch of the Douglas Adams… Of course, the station is littered with black kittens. They don't have any role to play. They're just there. And why shouldn't a Detective sleep in Andy Pandy pyjamas and have his landlady bring him tea in bed, and grow his own tobacco under his desk or have peas for lunch?

Beautifully bonkers, surprisingly surreal, but not entirely unbelievable.

Thoughts on Bryant and May's previous outing can be read here ryant and May and the Invisible Code, or for comedy crime on the other side of the pond, we'd recommend Bloodthirsty by Marshall Karp.

Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May Books in Chronological Order

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