Bryant & May – Oranges and Lemons (2020) by Christopher Fowler

“Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”

The Speaker of the House of the Commons can be a controversial figure, so when he is almost killed when crates of fruit fell from a lorry onto him, there’s a reasonable amount of interest in the accident. But Arthur Bryant, formerly of the now-disbanded Peculiar Crimes Unit, sees things a little differently. A man buried by oranges and lemons – in the vicinity of the church of St Clements…

The PCU, while reformed to deal with this “accident”, is still in a state of disarray following the events of The Lonely Hour. Without his partner by his side, Arthur Bryant is finding himself struggling to cope, but as the deaths begin to add up, all linked tangentially to the traditional folk song, the unit will have to pull together to stop a determined killer, someone who has been planning this for a very long time…

One question that rattles around my head sometimes is “Which modern authors emulate the Golden Age of Detection best”? There’s no good answer to this – although there are several bad answers – but one could ask instead, “Which modern authors show an unabashed affection for the Golden Age?” And near the top of the list would be Christopher Fowler.

There’s a moment towards the end of the book, where one of the two Daves, the temporary workmen who seem to be permanently working at the PCU, posits a theory, based on an Agatha Christie book that he’d read. It’s a theory that some readers may have already had concerning the plot, and hearing it voiced from the Dave will either give them confidence or shoot it down, depending on whether they trust Dave. Other readers will think, “damn, good point Dave, should have thought of that“, and, most importantly, other readers will think, “gosh, that sounds like an interesting book, I’d better go and read some Agatha Christie“… It’s an off-hand line that works on so many levels. Yes, I’m probably over-thinking that, but it made me smile. And think. Not sure what else I could ask of a book… And that’s just one moment that’s stuck with me. There are many more…

Oranges and Lemons is a thematic sequel to The Lonely Hour (my book of the month for last month). While that dealt with the PCU pulling away from each other in various ways, Oranges and Lemons is more about rapprochement. While – and I really should emphasise this – the book works perfectly well as a standalone, if you know the characters well, then the book is an absolute joy. This pair of books has seen John May taking a little bit more of the spotlight, moving out of Arthur Bryant’s shadow. The reader sees a little more clearly why exactly John is necessary – I compared him to the straight man in a comedy double act in the last review – the essential part of the act that is never noticed. Of course, you still get Arthur Bryant in his full glory, and what a glory that is, and there’s also a superb demonstration of Chekhov’s Fishing Hat. All the members of the PCU (apart from the one who does not return from the previous book – well, two, sort of) move forward in their lives but unlike in the last book, these steps bring them closer together.

We also meet two new members of the team – well, three, sort of – and I did particularly enjoy the new intern, Sidney, a great addition to the team. I’ll say no more about her, I’ll let you meet her for yourself, but I thought the author did a great job with her.

There are so many other bits and pieces I could praise, but one final thing – I’ve read so many “serial killer nursery rhyme” stories where the author forgets to or can’t give a reason for the murderer following such a pattern. Heck, even And Then There Were None only has “well, it’s a bit scary, isn’t it?” But here, Fowler actually gives the killer a reason for that makes sense, in a twisted way, obviously. If only they hadn’t made that one fatal mistake…

Bryant and May – Oranges and Lemons is out tomorrow, July 23rd from Doubleday and is utterly fantastic. Many thanks for the review e-copy.

3 comments

  1. Hi Puzzle Doctor,very good review.Is the killer a bit Dr phibish?on the subject of series, do you know what happened to the Chef Maruice series.

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  2. For information of Indian readers, the ebook price of this book at Google Books is about half of that at Amazon India.

    Amazon India price: Rs 1167.60
    Google Books price:Rs. 656.08

    Like

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