What I enjoy best about Christopher Fowler’s hugely entertaining Peculiar Crimes Unit series starring Inspector’s Bryant and May—and there are many things to enjoy—is the fact that each novel can be read on its own without having to know the entire series.
Mind you, I think it’s a good idea to stick to chronological order whenever reading a series, if for no other reason than to see the chemistry between the various characters grow with each successive novel. Fowler himself indicates at the beginning of The Memory of Blood that you need not have read the prior PCU novels to enjoy this one. To make it even easier for the reader, he opens the novel with a brief bio of each character at the PCU, which makes you instantly feel like you already know them.
The Peculiar Crimes Unit (or PCU) is a British investigative team that gets the cases too complicated or obscure for the regular squad. The star players are the aging but still spry team of Bryant and May. They have seen some interesting cases in their time, but this new one cuts right to the heart of an old British tradition. “The Punch and Judy Show”—a puppet show originating from the Victorian era—has been entertaining people for centuries and has become historical street entertainment.
In this novel, the Punch and Judy characters are symbolically used in a far more sinister way. The cast of a popular new murder mystery play being put on at the Strand Theatre entitled “The Two Murderers” have been beset with tragedy. At a cast party, the infant son of the show’s producer is tossed to his death. Found near the infant’s body is a life-size puppet of Mr. Punch.
As Bryant and May begin interviewing everyone in the theatre troupe, they find many who might want revenge on the show’s producer. But enough to kill his child? The answers lie not only in the curious relationships that have been spawned within the theatrical troupe but also in the very history of the Punch and Judy play. After the baby is killed in that play, the wife is the next victim. Bryant and May go out of their way to see that the producer’s wife is protected, but the killer switches things up and kills another member of the crew.
When the producer himself is murdered, the PCU realizes that there may be no rhyme or reason here, and that they are all the unwitting pawns of a theatrical killer who has written them all into his own bizarre and deadly script. The Memory of Blood is witty, thoroughly engaging and informative. Fans of theatre, murder mysteries and classic British novels will salivate while turning each page of this one, and Bryant and May are the perfect hosts to have by your side during the adventure.