1969, Tavistock Hall, and a weekend party is underway. Ten guests, an eclectic group to say the least, all there with different reasons and different secrets, not least two young policemen, assigned to protect a witness in an upcoming court case. Two policemen by the name of Arthur Bryant and John May.
Fighting for the survival of the Peculiar Crimes Unit (not for the last time), the last thing they expect is the house being cut off by army manoeuvres. OK, to be technical, the last thing they expect is that, along with a multitude of crimes, including theft, attempted murder by gargoyle and successful murder by automatic composter… But are the two young detectives in their own Agatha Christie country house mystery or something else entirely…
A trip back in time for our sleuths, bookended by Arthur Bryant’s attempt to write a memoir of an undocumented case of the PCU, and it’s a good way of breathing fresh life into the tales of the detectives. By stripping away the support staff and focussing entirely on Bryant and May, it gives a chance for John May to stand out more than usual and also to document some of the events that helped form the dynamic duo that we’ve been following for the past fourteen books.
It’s an interesting choice to view the swinging Sixties from outside of London – Fowler explains why in an author’s note at the end – but it’s an effective strategy. Bryant’s view of the ever-changing make-up of London means that he never has any intention of embracing the moment, whereas May’s intention to live in the moment means the exact opposite. But this isn’t an historical document about the state of London, it’s a murder mystery and despite claims to the contrary, it’s a classic-style one. Admittedly, there’s a bundle of plot elements that would never have been seen in Dame Agatha’s canon, adding the usual sense of humour to proceedings and giving it a distinctively bonkers flavour while never straying away from an intriguing mystery that keeps the reader guessing.
Admittedly, one element of the plot I found pretty obvious, but how it weaves together into the grand scheme of things blindsided me completely – the resolution is a bit of a cracker, in my opinion – and the epilogue detailing what happened next to the players in the drama adds a delightful end note.
Overall, another winner from Christopher Fowler and his merry curmudgeons – by the way, in case you’re worrying that you’ll miss the grumpy old Arthur, he’s basically just grumpy young Arthur here, old well before his time. Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended.
Other Bryant & May reviews: