Taking a last minute protection detail from a colleague, ex Indianapolis cop and former P.I. Frank Behr doesn't know what he's letting himself in for. Now working for the Caro group , a security firm, Frank spends most of his working days at a desk, compiling security checks for contracted firms and organisations. He's bored to tears but circumstances and a pregnant girlfriend don't leave him too many other options. The security detail turns out to be a lot less routine that it should have been and he's ambushed in an underground car park by a lone shooter with some very fancy weaponry. Frank foils the hit but the shooter gets away... and beyond a lot of pats on the back nobody seems to want to investigate. Now this is where I have my only quibble with the book. Motivation. Frank's motivation. Usually the plot dictates that the protagonist has to take the case or bad things are going to happen to them as a result. This one has nothing of the sort. In fact it's quite clear from the outset that poking your nose into things is going to cost you at the very least your job, and it's going to paint targets on your back, your girlfriend's back and one for that little unborn life too. He's confronted several times and asked just what are his motivations and the best he can offer are vague notions of things being personal and even just outright boredom. Maybe, as somebody suggests, he's just a glory hound. Other than that the book is very entertaining; a twisty corporate shenanigans plot, a lethal Welsh hitman, lots of action and a hero who won't lie down. This is the third in David Levien's series featuring Frank Behr and my copy was titled The Contract even though it's previously been published as 13 Million Dollar Pop, though I guess that doesn't translate too well outside the States. Review from an advanced readers copy.
Christopher Fowler's wonderful creations, elderly detectives Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit are called in to investigate the brutal killing of a young baby taken from its cot in a locked room, shaken to death and callously thrown out the window. And on the floor next to the cot lies a life size Mr Punch doll. As ever Bryant dives into the esoteric aspects of the case while May employs solid police work. The book kicks off with some documents detailing the history and function of the PCU complete with personnel files, and all seemingly compiled and perused by shadowy government types bent on closing down the unit.
Generally Bryant usually states that he doesn't do multi-tasking so he's severely hampered this time by being distracted by the suspicious death of his biographer. Luckily DS Janice Longbright agrees to help him get to the bottom of it so that he can get to grips with the main investigation. London's theatrical history and our own peculiar fascination with Punch and Judy over the centuries certainly give the old detective plenty of food for thought.
Fowler manages to pull of his own brand of alchemy that blends the outright absurd with hard reality but no matter how dark it gets there is always room for humour.
My only slight niggle is that opening chapter. It's one of those 'let's lift a weird and exciting chapter from the end of the book and put it right at the start so the reader doesn't get put off by the sedate start.' I love all the slow build up so I don't think it was needed.
Prequel chapter aside I still had a good time with Bryant and May again.
Review from an advanced readers copy.
Christopher Fowler's brilliantly conceived British detective series continues. This one has quite a lot of mess to clean up from the previous book. Mr Fox is back on the loose after his escape from custody and the Peculiar Crimes Unit is reeling from the death of one of their own. Bryant and May must use every resource available to bring the killer in or it's curtains for the unit.
London bleeds from these books. With so many writers setting their story in London these days, many of them having never set foot on either bank of the Thames, it's a breath of fresh air to read about the place from a proper resident devotee. Bryant's fascination for all the minutiae of urban history and myth, that esoteric soup he draws on to fuel his investigations and which is served up with such a relish, it's obvious Fowler loves all this stuff as well. The other half of the ageing duo, May, is the procedural side of the operation. Fowler somehow manages to write quirkily with great humour but also maintains real atmosphere, threat and suspense which is no mean card trick.
Off the Rails takes the PCU down to the London Underground as they try to track the seemingly faceless killer. Bryant is in his element sifting through the wealth of ghost stories and history that a bunch of Victorian tunnels can accrue in a century and a half. When one line of enquiry leads the unit to a bunch of students things become even more chaotic as the clues get obscured by Bryant's achilles heel - technology.
Review from an advanced reading copy.