Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are back on the case in this whip-smart and wildly twisting mystery, in which a killer in London’s parks is proving to be a most elusive quarry.
Helen Forester’s day starts like any other: Around seven in the morning, she takes her West Highland terrier for a walk in her street’s private garden. But by 7:20 she is dead, strangled yet peacefully laid out on the path, her dog nowhere to be found. The only other person in the locked space is the gardener, who finds the body and calls the police. He expects proper cops to arrive, but what he gets are Bryant, May, and the wily members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
Before the detectives can make any headway on the case, a second woman is discovered in a public park, murdered in nearly identical fashion. Bryant, recovering from a health scare, delves into the arcane history of London’s cherished green spaces, rife with class drama, violence, and illicit passions. But as a devious killer continues to strike, Bryant and May struggle to connect the clues, not quite seeing the forest for the trees. Now they have to think and act fast to save innocent lives, the fate of the city’s parks, and the very existence of the PCU.
An irresistibly witty, inventive blend of history and suspense, Bryant & May: Wild Chamber is Christopher Fowler in classic form.
Praise for Bryant & May: Wild Chamber
“Ingenious . . . Fowler brilliantly mixes humor into a fair-play whodunit with an unexpected solution.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“For fans of offbeat mysteries, Fowler’s long-running series continues to offer some of the best reading; the latest entry features an array of eccentric characters, a killer conclusion in a library setting, quirky humor, witty writing, interesting side trips and expositions, and a well-ordered, intricate plot.”—Library Journal (starred review)
About the Author
Christopher Fowler is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Full Dark House and thirteen other Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, as well as the PCU story collection London’s Glory. In 2015, Fowler won the coveted Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library Award in recognition for his body of work. He lives in London, where he is at work on his next Peculiar Crimes Unit novel, Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors.
Read an Excerpt
‘Like a kite stuck in telegraph wires’
On a desolate, rain-battered London midnight, the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit went looking for a killer.
DC Colin Bimsley charged up a narrow flight of service stairs leading to the raised railway line, and was near the top when sweat broke out across his back and forehead. He looked down at his boots as the station staircase truncated and rotated, churning his stomach. Stretching out his hands to the walls, he tried to steady himself.
His quarry was getting away. Even with a section of rusted iron drainpipe manacled to his right wrist, the killer was running nimbly over rails and sleepers, sure-footed in the falling rain. It shouldn’t have happened like this, but nothing in the case should have happened the way it did, and now the staff of the Peculiar Crimes Unit were dealing with the farcical consequences.
Colin fell back against the wall, watching in horror as the stairs dropped. He could not move. From the corner of his eye he saw his colleagues Detective Sergeant Jack Renfield and DC Fraternity DuCaine ascending toward him.
‘Hey, Colin, you okay?’ Fraternity called.
‘No—it’s my head thing, it’s back.’ Bimsley suffered from Irlen Syndrome, a perceptual problem that made him unable to judge widths and spaces, and it had kicked in just as he was coming within range of their suspect. All he could do was point upward. ‘He’s getting away,’ he called. ‘I can’t go any further—’
‘Stay here, mate.’ Renfield slapped him on the shoulder as he and DuCaine powered past, up onto the rain-swept bridgework that ran beside the train lines. Ahead of them, the southern routes of London Bridge Station fanned out in a great brick swathe.
The yellow windows of a commuter carriage flickered past. The train was heading for Kent and the coast. It had just turned midnight. Below them the stalled traffic steamed and rocked, jouncing forward, only to halt and hoot, the drivers cursing as the traffic lights flicked red again.
The suspect was running hard along the narrow edge of the bridgework, but DuCaine’s long, muscular legs quickly closed the gap. Renfield had spotted the only possible escape route and was frantically calculating their chances of an arrest; at the end of the brick path was an open section of railing leading to one of the railway arch’s buttresses. Even if their suspect was able to climb through, it was a long drop to the street below.
DuCaine had almost caught up with the running man. He made a sweeping grab at his jacket but the rain was in his eyes and he missed. He slipped onto his knees. The suspect vanished into the gap between the railings and headed out onto the brick promontory beyond it.
‘Leave him, Frat,’ Renfield called. ‘He can’t go anywhere.’
Fraternity answered by jabbing his finger down: Look.
Renfield peered over the side of the arch and saw a single freestanding iron pillar, the top of which was about ten feet below them. If their target took the wildest of risks and managed to land on its broad capital, he could leap once more to the pavement and run back into the tunnels beneath the lines. There was a good chance they would lose him forever.
‘If he jumps, don’t attempt to follow him,’ Renfield said into his headset. ‘I don’t want to be the one peeling you off the pavement.’
‘Why is there even a bloody pillar there anyway?’ DuCaine asked.
‘Left over from the old line,’ Renfield replied. ‘Damn, he’s going for it.’
It was too late to stop him. Their suspect had spotted the rain-slick top of the pillar and made his move. He was light and easily managed the leap, landing perfectly in the centre of the capital. Now he just had to jump downward once more and he would be home free.
DuCaine had also calculated the probable outcome. He touched his microphone. ‘Is there a cordon around London Bridge Street?’
His headset crackled. ‘Yeah, we’ve shut off all traffic, and on St Thomas’s Street as well.’
Renfield hesitated, thinking that he should head back down the stairs, but he knew it would take him too long to reach the base of the pillar. DuCaine was already bracing himself for the jump.
‘Okay, I’m going for it.’
‘Frat, don’t try it, mate.’
Fraternity was there one second, gone the next. The suspect had made his second leap, and behind him DuCaine was about to land hard on the pillar he had just vacated.
Renfield looked over the edge of the railway parapet and saw their target falling from the pillar toward the ground. Right at that moment, something entirely unexpected happened. The suspect stopped in midair, hovering above the street with his arms over his head. It seemed insane, impossible, but there he was, suspended above the road.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Renfield.
His headset burst into life. ‘What’s happening?’ asked John May.
‘Fraternity’s doing a bit of parkour,’ he replied. ‘Suspect made a jump for the pavement. Only he didn’t make it.’
‘What do you mean, he didn’t make it?’
‘Not exactly sure, guv,’ Renfield admitted. ‘A bit of a Peter Pan job. He’s sort of floating above the road.’
Their suspect had jumped between a pair of virtually invisible steel guy ropes, running between the railway arches, which had been used to suspend signs for the London Dungeon’s last exhibition. He had dropped between them but the length of drainpipe manacled to his wrist had caught itself over the knotted cables. Trapped, he tried to grip the ropes with his free hand to ease the weight on his right arm and now swung helplessly back and forth with his legs kicking, unable to move in any direction.
A few moments later he was surrounded by various surprised members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
‘You’re too late!’ their suspect shouted down at them. ‘It’s over. I did what I set out to do. You know I did. Whatever happens now, remember this: I won.’
‘He can say what he likes,’ Jack Renfield told his boss, John May. ‘He’s hanging over the road like a kite stuck in telegraph wires. It looks to me like we’ve caught the Mr Punch Killer.’
‘Why are they allowed to be there?’
Over on St Thomas’s Street at exactly the same time, a Metropolitan Police traffic unit was redirecting cars around a makeshift cordon of railings, red plastic barriers and ribbons, but it was proving trickier than anyone expected. Articulated trucks were being forced to tackle the small side streets running under the railway arches, and were mounting the pavements as they turned.
Sergeant Samuel Kemp-Bird was nearing retirement. What he saw around him was utter chaos. He hadn’t expected to end up on point duty tonight, but there was a lot of flu about and the traffic unit was short-staffed. He had only just recovered from a bad cold himself and the damp night air was filled with diesel fumes, tightening his chest. His spectacles were covered in water droplets, and he had nothing to clean them with. The traffic was backed up in every direction and seething, the drivers on the lookout for someone to blame. The sergeant wished he was in America, where failure to comply brought the threat of arrest. Here, drivers just laughed at you and swore.
‘Oi, mate, this is a joke, innit? What’s going on?’ a driver shouted down from the cab of his truck.
‘Police are arresting someone. The arterial roads around the station are closed. Keep it moving,’ Kemp-Bird called back, waving him on.
The driver kept his air brakes on. ‘How am I supposed to get into the West End?’
‘You’ll have to go round and back up to Tooley Street, then down Borough High Street,’ Kemp-Bird replied. ‘Barnham Street’s shut but I think Shand Street’s still open.’ He called to his gormless young colleague, ‘Oi, Blakey, is Shand Street still open?’
‘Yeah, it must be,’ Blakey shouted back. ‘No one’s mentioned it.’
‘Are you having a laugh?’ The driver slapped the side of his truck with impatience. ‘This is an artic, not a concertina. And that’s not a road, it’s a bloody tunnel. It’s got a tight bend at either end and a low-clearance ceiling. I can’t get through that.’
Sergeant Kemp-Bird stepped back and eyed the truck’s roof. He removed his glasses and wiped them. The trucker was holding up traffic. ‘You’ve got a good foot and a half all round, mate. You’re clear to go.’ He waved the vehicle on.
The driver didn’t think so, not for a minute, but he was already two hours late getting his glassware into the old Covent Garden market because of delays to the ferry services, so he decided to take the traffic cop at his word. Releasing his brakes, he hit his turn signal and accelerated.
The vehicle behind him, a gleaming red Chevrolet Cruze, pulled up near the traffic cop and its window rolled halfway down. ‘What’s going on?’ called the pretty blond girl inside. Sergeant Kemp-Bird coughed. He thought he could smell dope over the blue exhaust fumes in the tunnel.
‘Detour,’ he said. ‘Where are you heading?’
‘Trying to get to Vauxhall. Why is it so difficult to get anywhere in this city?’ She sounded as if she might also have been drinking, but there was no room and no time to pull her over—he needed to get the traffic flowing again.
‘Look, just follow the truck in front to Borough High Street.’ Stepping back, he waved her on.
Further along the tunnel, Sharyn Buckland pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and checked her watch again. The show had finished late, the service in the restaurant had been abysmal and the night tube wasn’t in operation tonight, not that she ever caught it this late—it was too full of drunk people eating the most disgusting burger things out of paper bags. ‘Stay close to me, darling,’ she told the boy, adjusting the heavy box under her arm. ‘We’ll find a taxi in a minute.’