This “Peculiar Crimes Unit” mystery is indeed peculiar, but in a most intriguing way. Set in London, the novel is contemporary in subject, though enhanced by the history of the fabled city and its political crises, murder sprees, and architecture.
The secrets of centuries linger in the ancient buildings. London is suffering the usual cataclysms of mass demonstrations and outrage at the financial gimmickry that has wiped out fortunes, smug bankers hiding behind their corporate facades. Prior to Guy Fawkes Day, the streets are chaotic with demonstrators, law enforcement barely containing the energy of angry mobs: “Once again, as had happened so many times in the past, the City of London found itself on fire.”
A vague figure is at work among the throngs, conducting clandestine business as he sets about a scheme to bring the city to its knees--particularly an emblem of the financial outrage, Findersbury Private Bank. It begins with an explosion in the doorway of that very bank, where a homeless man has sought shelter for the night: “The poor are worse off now than they were in Victorian times.” The explosion draws the sought-after attention: the homeless man
is burned alive. It is only the beginning of a series of bizarre deaths, a case that makes its way--in spite of the efforts to avoid such a destination--to the Peculiar Crimes Unit, under the purview of Senior Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May. A covert unit under the umbrella of the City of London, the PCU’s mission is to “prevent public disorder” and “provide stability and peace of mind in increasingly unpredictable times”.
This specialized unit consists of individuals devoted to supporting the efforts of Bryant and May. The aging Bryant prefers old-school methods, given to eccentricity: “As much as Bryant loved his city, he was ashamed of the way it encouraged the greed of others, crushing those who found life a struggle”. May is the perfect foil and partner for Bryant, the team extraordinarily skillful in solving the most difficult of cases. As the impact of the current case grows with a succession of killings, the PCU scours London physically and digitally, in search of the culprit and his motives. Meanwhile, fear and anger threaten to tear the city apart.
Fowler forges a fascinating path through this storied city via conflicts, characters, and a clever melding of past and present. The echoes of past struggles add to the cacophony unfolding in the city, Bryant ever mindful of history’s lessons and the duplicity of the criminal mind. Ancient conflicts and unsolved mysteries hover, at home amid contemporary issues
as panic and rage clamor for justice on fog-shrouded alleys once walked by Jack the Ripper. The ambiance is tense, the streets congested, unpredictable crowds surging in protest--and an elusive killer
plans ah incendiary grand coup on Guy Fawkes Day, a day of bonfires, effigies and riotous celebration. London comes alive in Fowler’s prose, the team of Bryant and May offering a behind-the-scenes perspective, where anarchy threatens and the PCU fights to keep the barbarians from the gate.