Arthur Bryant and John May (named for the match makers, one assumes)head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, founded in WW2 to investigate crimes that ‘could cause national scandal or political unrest,’ and always under threat of closure by the powers that be. These ancient men and their Unit have survived since then, even though they ignore the rules. They still always manage to keep a few steps ahead in their solutions to arcane problems and impossibly complicated crimes and maintain their tenuous existence.
In the first book, Full Dark House,set just after WW2, Arthur Bryant appears to have died in an explosion that leaves only his false teeth behind. May is described as a ‘smooth talking modernist’ and Bryant thrives on hallucinatory encounters with the past – conversations with Pepys, HM the Queen, and extravagantly learned discourses on many subjects that somehow become relevant to the crime in hand.
Wild Chamber is number 15 in the series and the old codgers are still under pressure to solve seemingly motiveless crimes. These crimes occur in what used to be called Wild Chambers, those small privately owned parks in London to which access is only possible for the superior beings who own a key. They’re now sedate places of lawns and flowers, but Bryant finds that in the past they were used for more abandoned purposes. As crimes are occurring in these private spaces, it opens the way for opportunistic government officials to make a grab for all parks for profit-driven motives.
If you like London you will adore these books…the mingling of history and modern life, with forays into future is compulsively readable. But Bryant and May,locked in their battle with the authoritie are not always appreciated by their colleagues.
‘It’s a bloody embarrassment. Bryant and May should have been packed off to an old folk’s home decades ago. They’re just holding everything up for the rest of us.’
But time and again Bryant and May survive, solving the crime with minutes to spare.
I’m about to read Book 2 in the series, The Water Room in which an elderly woman is found dead in her basement with river water in her throat, and the underground river systems over which London is built are about to rise.