Bryant and May off the Rails (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #8)by Christopher Fowler
Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar Crimes Unit novels have been hailed for their originality, suspense, and unforgettable characters. Now Arthur Bryant, John May, and their team of proud eccentrics have been given only one week to hunt down a murderer they’ve already caught once—and who is now luring them down into the darkest shadows of the London… See more details below
Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar Crimes Unit novels have been hailed for their originality, suspense, and unforgettable characters. Now Arthur Bryant, John May, and their team of proud eccentrics have been given only one week to hunt down a murderer they’ve already caught once—and who is now luring them down into the darkest shadows of the London Underground.
The young man they seek is an enigma. His identity is false. His links to society are invisible. A search of his home yields no clues. The Peculiar Crimes Unit knows only this: Somehow Mr. Fox got out of a locked room and killed one of their best and brightest. Facing a shutdown, Bryant and May learn that their man, expertly disguised, has struck again in the world’s oldest subway system. But as their search takes them into the vast labyrinth of tunnels that tie the city together, they discover a fresh mystery as bizarre as anything they have ever faced. . . .
As the city blithely goes about its way, as tales of ghost stations and Underground legends emerge, Bryant and May, men of opposite methods, are each getting closer to what lies hidden at the heart of London’s celebrated Tube—and to the madness that is driving their man to murder.
Sophisticated, fast-paced, and confounding until its final twist, Bryant & May off the Rails is Christopher Fowler dead on track and at the height of his power to beguile, bewitch, and entertain.
“One of the most delightful series around.”—Library Journal
“Sharp wit, elegant style, and wild imagination.”—The Boston Globe
“Dazzling.”—The Denver Post
“Sparkling.”—The Plain Dealer
Read an Excerpt
A Private Feud
CONFIDENTIAL FROM: THE DESK OF LESLIE FARADAY HOME OFFICE SENIOR POLICE LIAISON TO: RAYMOND LAND ACTING TEMPORARY HEAD PECULIAR CRIMES UNIT
With regard to your apprehension of the hired assassin operating in the King's Cross area, this so-called 'King's Cross Executioner' chap, thank you for acting so quickly on the matter, although it's a pity he subsequently managed to give you the slip.I had a bit of trouble opening your report because, frankly, computers have never been my strong point, but the new girl in our office seems to understand these things and printed out a copy for me.
Following the judicial review we decided to scrap the idea of holding a press conference, but we're speaking to our key contacts today, so we'll have some idea of the headlines likely to run in tomorrow's papers. Always talk to the press, I say, even whenyou've got nothing to tell them. We're hoping that a bit of publicity might flush him out. I'm trying to discourage sensational references to his nickname, without much luck, I'm sorry to say, but when a little boy finds a human head while fishing for eelsin a canal, you can expect the press to react strongly.
I have passed your conclusions on to my superior and other concerned department heads, and will return with their reactions in due course. I also have to acknowledge the receipt of an additional report on this case from one of your senior detectives, ArthurBryant, although I must admit I was only able to read portions of this document as Bryant's handwriting was extremely small and barely legible, and pages 23 through 31 had some kind of curry sauce spilled over them. Furthermore his account is opinionated andanecdotal in the extreme, and on several occasions, positively offensive. Could you have a word with him about this?
Naturally we are all sorry to hear about what happened. It is always with great sadness that one hears of a police officer's demise in the course of his duty, especially in this case, when the officer in question was so highly regarded, and had such abright future ahead of him.
Although the tribunal was reasonably satisfied that no member of the Peculiar Crimes Unit could be held responsible for the unforeseen events occurring on your premises, we do not feel that full autonomy can be returned to the Unit until a series of regulatorysafeguards have been put in place to ensure that the impossibility of such an incident--
'Oh, for God's sake get on with it!' Arthur Bryant complained at the page, balling it up and disdainfully throwing it over his shoulder as he skipped to the final sheet. He had filched the report from Raymond Land's mailbox and was vetting it before theacting chief arrived for work. 'Let's see--"inadequate safeguards" yadda yadda yadda "irregular procedures" yadda yadda "unnecessary risk factors," all predictable stuff. Ah, here's the bit I was expecting--"because the perpetrator of these crimes was allowedto escape and is still at large, he remains a potential menace to society. Therefore we cannot consider fully reinstating the PCU until he is apprehended." In other words, catch him but don't expect us to help you with additional resources. Bloody typical.Oh, listen, you'll like this bit. "Due to the financial reorganisation of the Home Office's outsourced operations units, you have until the end of the week (Saturday at six p.m.) to conclude this and any other unfinished investigations in order to qualify forannual funding." So he wants us to achieve the impossible in less than one week or he and his ghastly boss Oskar Kasavian will cut us off without a penny. "Your Obedient Servant, Leslie Faraday." Who signs their letters like that anymore? Anyway, he's not ourObedient Servant, but I suppose he couldn't sign it Sad Porky Timeserver or Snivelling Little Rodent.'
With increasing age, the grace notes of temperance, balance, harmony and gentility are supposed to appear in the human heart. This was not entirely true, however, in Arthur Bryant's case. He remained acidulous, stubborn, insensitive and opinionated. Inaddition, he was getting ruder by the day, as the byzantine workings of the British Home Office sucked away his enthusiasm for collaring killers.
Bryant started to crumple up the rest of the memo, then remembered he wasn't supposed to have seen it, and flattened it out imperfectly. He fished the other pages out of the bin, but now they were smeared with the remains of last night's fish and chips.
'I don't know why you get so het up, Arthur. What did you honestly expect?' John May carefully pinched his smart pin-striped trousers at the knee and bent to give him a hand picking up the pages. 'A man kills three times, is arrested by us, breaks outof a locked cell, stabs a police officer in the neck and vanishes. We were hardly going to be rewarded for our efforts.'
'What about the innocent people we protected? The deaths we prevented?' Bryant demanded, appalled.
'I think they're happier counting the millions of pounds we saved them.' May rose, twisted his chair and flopped down, stretching himself into a six-foot line. 'Just think of all the companies that would have pulled out if we hadn't been able to securethe area.'
'What a case for my memoirs,' Bryant muttered. 'Three mutilated bodies found on the mean streets of King's Cross. Murders committed solely for financial gain by a slippery, adaptable thief who's grown up in the area around the terminus, a small-time crookpropelled to the status of murderer when a robbery went wrong. You know what's happened, don't you? For the first time in his life this Mr Fox has been made to feel important. The escalation of his criminal status, from burglar to hired killer, has increasedhis determination to stay free.'
There was a darkness at the heart of this chameleon-like killer that the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit had underestimated. For a while it had felt as if gang war was breaking out in the area, but by getting to the root of the crimes, the detectiveshad managed to soothe public fears and reassure investors that the newly developing region was still open for business. In the process, however, they had lost an officer, and had been unable to stop their quarry from escaping back into the faceless crowds.
Bryant pottered over to the sooty, rain-streaked window and tapped it. 'He's still out there somewhere,' he warned, 'and now he'll do one of two things. Having had his fingers badly burned, he'll either vanish completely, never to be seen again, or he'llreturneth like a dog to vomit, just to taunt me further. Proverbs chapter twenty-six, verse eleven.' 'I don't understand,' said May. 'Why are you taking this so personally?'
'Because I'm the one he's after. DuCaine just got in the way.' Bryant had never exhibited much empathy with his co-workers, but this struck May as callous even by his standards.
'Liberty DuCaine's parents have just lost a son, Arthur, so perhaps you could keep such thoughts to yourself. Don't turn this into a private feud. It concerns all of us.' May rose and left the room in annoyance.
Bryant was sorry that the lad had died--of course he was upset--but nothing could bring DuCaine back now, and the only way they could truly restore order was by catching the man responsible for his murder. With a sigh he popped open his tobacco tin andstuffed a pipe with 'Old Arabia' Navy Rough-Cut Aromatic Shag. His gut told him that Mr Fox would quickly resurface, not because the killer had any romantic longing to be stopped, but because his rage would make him careless. His sense of respect had been compromised,and he was determined to make the police pay for cornering him.
I'll get you, sonny, Bryant thought, because I owe it not just to DuCaine, but to every innocent man, woman and child out there who could become another of your statistics. You'll turn up again, soon enough. You've tasted blood now. The need to let otherssee how big you've grown will drive you back out into the light. When that happens, I'll have you.
Unfortunately, Bryant tried to avoid reminding himself, it would need to happen this week.
DC Colin Bimsley and DC Meera Mangeshkar were watching the train station. They had no idea what their suspect might look like, or any reason to assume he would appear suddenly before them on the concourse. But Mr Fox knew his terrain well and rarely leftit, so there was a chance that even now he might be wandering through the Monday morning commuters. And as the St Pancras International surveillance team was more concerned with watching for terrorist suspects after a weekend of worrying intelligence, it fellto the two detective constables to keep an eye out for their man. At least it was warm and dry under the great glass canopy.
Each circuit of the huge double-tiered terminus took half an hour. Bimsley and Mangeshkar wore jeans and matching black nylon jackets with badges, the closest anyone at the PCU could come to an official uniform, but Bimsley was a foot taller than his partner,and they made an incongruous pair.
'Down there.' Meera pointed, leaning over the balustrade. 'That's the third time he's crossed between the bookshop and the florist.'
'You can't arrest someone for browsing,' Bimsley replied. 'Do you want to go and look?'
'It's worth checking out.' Meera led the way to the stairs. Colin checked his watch: 8:55 a.m. The Eurostar was offloading passengers from Brussels and Paris, the national rail services brought hordes of commuters from the Midlands and the north, the tubeswere disgorging suburbanites and reconnecting them to overland services. Charity workers were stopping passers-by; others were handing out free newspapers, packets of tissues and bottles of water; a sales team was attempting to sell credit services; the shopson the ground-floor concourse were all open for business--and there was a French cheese fair; tricolour stalls had been set out down the centre of the covered walkway. Travellers seemed adept at negotiating these obstacles while furling their wet umbrellasand manhandling their cases through the crowds. Was a murderer moving among them?
'There he goes again,' said Meera.
'You're right, he just bought a newspaper and a doughnut, let's nick him. Uh-oh, look out, he's stopped by the florist. I'll make a note of that; considering the purchase of carnations. Definitely dodgy.'
'Suppose it's Mr Fox and you just let him walk away?'
'You want to call it? I mean, if we're going to start stop-and-search procedures down here, we'd better have some clearly defined criteria.'
'You can come up with something later--let's take him.' Meera paced up through the crowd, then stopped by the French market, puzzled, looking back. 'Colin?'
'What's the matter?'
'Something weird.' She pointed to the far side of the concourse. There half a dozen teenagers had suddenly stopped and spaced themselves six feet apart from each other. Bimsley shrugged and pointed to the other wall, where the same thing was happening.'What's going on?' Meera asked.
All around them, people were freezing in their tracks and slowly turning.
'They're all wearing phone earpieces,' Meera pointed out.
Now almost everyone in the centre of the station was standing still and facing front. Beneath the station clock, two young men in grey hooded sweatshirts set an old-fashioned ghetto blaster on a cafe table and hit Play. As the first notes of 'Rehab' by Amy Winehouse blasted out, the two young men raised their right arms and spun in tight circles. Everyone on the concourse copied them. The choreography had been rehearsed online until it was perfect. The station had suddenlybecome a dance floor.
'It's a flash mob,' Meera called wearily. The Internet phenomenon had popularised the craze for virally organised mass dancing in public places, but she had assumed it had fallen out of fashion a couple of years ago.
'I took part in a flash-freeze in Victoria Station once,' Bimsley told her, watching happily. 'Four hundred of us pretending to be statues. It's just a bit of harmless fun.' 'Well, our man's using it to cover his escape.'
'Meera, he's not our man, he's just a guy buying a newspaper and catching a train.' But the diminutive DC did not hear. She was already running across the concourse, weaving a path between the performers. The song could be heard bleeding from hundreds of earpieces as the entire station danced. The tune hit its chorus--they tried to makeme go to rehab, but I said no, no, no--and the choreography grew more complex. Colin could no longer see who Meera was chasing. Even the transport police were standing back and watching the dancers with smiles on their faces.
As the song reached its conclusion there was a concerted burst of leaping and twirling. Then, just as if the music had never played, everyone went back to the business of the day, catching trains and heading to the office. Meera was glaring at Colin throughthe crowds, furious to find that her target had disappeared. But just as Meera started walking toward Colin, someone grabbed at his shoulder.
Colin turned to find himself facing a portly, florid-faced businessman who was slapping the pockets of his jacket and shouting incoherently. 'Hey, calm down, tell me the problem,' Bimsley advised.
'You are police, yes?' screeched the man. 'I have been robbed. Just now. I was crossing station and this stupid dancing begins, and I stop to watch because I cannot cross, you know, and my bag is taken right from my hand.'
'Do we look like the police?' Colin asked Meera via his headset.
Her derisive snort crackled back. 'What else could you be?'
'Did you see who took it?' Bimsley asked the businessman. 'What was the bag like?'
'Of course I did not see! You think I talk to you if I see? I would stop him! Is bag, black leather bag, is all. I am Turkish Cypriot, on my way to Paris. The receipts are in my bag.'
'My restaurants! Six restaurants! All the money is in cash.'
'You think I have time to count it? This is not my job. Maybe sixty thousand, maybe seventy thousand pounds.' 'Wait a minute,' said Bimsley, 'you're telling me you were carrying over sixty thousand on you--in cash?'
'Of course is cash. I always do this on same Monday every month.'
'Always the same day?' Bimsley was incredulous. How could anyone be so stupid?
'Yes, and is perfectly safe because no-one knows I carry this money, how could they?'
'Well, what about somebody from one of your restaurants?'
'You tell me I should not trust my own countrymen? My own flesh and blood? Is always safe and I have no trouble, is routine, is what I always do. But today the music start up and everybody dance and someone snatch the bag from me. Look.' The irate businessmanheld up his left wrist. Dangling from it was a length of plastic cable, snipped neatly through.
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I love the Bryant and May books. They are intricate mysteries with lots and lots of arcane knowledge to impart. The characters are delightful and unique and each story in the series is a stand alone good read, while reading the series in order provides additional insight.
The London based Peculiar Crimes Unit elderly lead detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, capture the King's Cross Executioner, who sliced off the heads of his victims. However, before they could bring this Mr. Fox to justice, he escapes (see Bryant & May on the Loose). The brass is horrified by their failure especially since Fox murdered a constable as he fled custody. There is a new move to retire the senior PCU leaders and end funding for the unit. As time is running out, the team seeks to recapture the elusive sly Mr. Fox who they believe is the culprit behind lethal incidents in the London Underground in which a single mother fell down a stairwell to her death and an intoxicated student disappeared and is assumed dead. This excellent Peculiar Crimes Unit police procedural will grip readers from the start to finish as the history of the unit's members, specially their geriatric leaders, enhance a strong contemporary mystery. Amusing yet also perplexing as the baffled senior pair and their subordinates wok the Fox fiasco while the brass want the senior pair retired and the unit shut down permanently. Christopher Fowler's talent is affirmed by the audience not having to read the previous Fox fable, though it is worth doing, as Bryant & May are on the case. Harriet Klausner