It's no surprise to find plenty of gothic touches in British author Fowler's debut mystery, the first in a series, given the renown of his horror fiction (Rune, etc.). When 80-year-old police detective Arthur Bryant gets blown up in an explosion at the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit headquarters, his longtime partner, John May, investigates his death. After some long, lecturing dialogue and an early chapter told from the viewpoint of a character who turns out to be of no consequence, the author reaches the core of his story-a flashback to the duo's first case during the London Blitz. In late 1940, the Palace Theatre is staging a production of Orpheus in the Underworld when the body of a dancer is found, sans feet. From this point forward, the intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama. The potency of Greek myth, conjured up by the opera being staged, is skillfully played out in the detectives' theories about the killer. The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading, while the hubris of a police underling, Sidney Biddle, provides additional tension. Both past and present plots reach satisfying resolutions. Now that Fowler has set the stage, no doubt his second Bryant and May mystery will get off to a better start. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (June 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
When octogenarian detective Arthur Bryant is killed in an explosion at the headquarters of the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit (think The X-Files), his equally aged partner. John May, must reexamine their very first case in order to solve the crime. London in 1940 is under siege from German bombs, but in the theater the show must go on even when a serial killer is dispatching the cast members of Orpheus in the Underworld with gruesome panache. Combining Bryant's unorthodox methods (consulting psychics) with May's more traditional police training, the duo eventually uncover the murderer. Could it be possible that the killer has returned 60 years later to wreak revenge? Despite a contrived, predictable ending, this darkly atmospheric first mystery introduces two most unusual detectives and nicely sets the Grand Guignol terror of a Phantom of the Opera-like plot against the dramatic backdrop of a city devastated by war. Fowler, who writes tales of urban horror (The Devil in Me), lives in London.-Wilda Williams, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-This mystery features the impending retirement of a Scotland Yard detective and the death of another. When Arthur Bryant is apparently blown up, his erstwhile partner, John May, begins reflecting on their first case together more than 60 years earlier. May, a raw recruit of 19, and Bryant, a 23-year-old detective, became the core of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, created to handle cases that were too important to ignore, yet that somehow seemed disproportionately insignificant in the face of the hundreds of civilians killed each night during the Blitz. Both men had been hurried through training and were suddenly faced with the strange case of the Palace Phantom, a killer victimizing the cast in an elaborate production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. May was both intrigued by and dismayed at Bryant's methods and seeming flights of fancy. He used everything from crime-scene forensics to spiritualists to help him build his case. Fowler skillfully shifts the action between 1940 and the 21st century, building suspense and growing awareness as each case comes to its respective climax. Not surprisingly, they are connected. The details of wartime London and the destruction and deprivation of daily life are vividly conveyed. Today's teens will identify with the young lives so drastically affected by the war while following the clues, and red herrings, to a satisfactory conclusion.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Bombs from the Blitz echo in an incendiary blast that takes the life of an octogenarian detective in 21st-century London: a compelling kickoff to a new series. Detective Arthur Bryant has worked with Detective John May in the Peculiar Crimes Unit since 1940, when the two confronted their first peculiar crime together: At the historical Palace Theatre, a dancer in a sensational opera was poisoned and lost her feet. The regular police took one look at the dancer's Austrian connections, the producer's Greek background, and the potential effect on wartime London's morals and morale and immediately passed the case to the newly formed PCU. Bryant, an eccentric, brilliant thinker, saw mythological connections; May chased phantoms on motorcycles through the blackout. Bryant, now an old man, decides to write his memoirs, beginning, as May discovers while sorting through the wreckage of the blast that killed Bryant, with the Palace case. Did someone care enough about a 60-year-old mystery to stop Bryant forcibly? An architectural rendering of the Palace, preserved because absent-minded Bryant left it in a copying machine, provides a clue for May as he resolves the old crime once more and the new crime once and for all. Bryant and May's enduring partnership combines newfangled forensic science with old-fashioned occultism, imagination with derring-do, and a sense of mission with the devastating effects of chaos. Agent: Mandy Little
"An absolutely riveting account of London during the Blitz."—Booklist
"Atmospheric, hugely beguiling and as filled with tricks and sleights of hand as a magician's sleeve...it is English gothic at its eccentric best; a combination of Ealing comedy and grand opera: witty, charismatic, occasionally touching and with a genuine power to thrill." —Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat
"A first class thriller, but don't expect any sleep." —Sunday Telegraph
"The writing is as ever fluid and pacey, the characterization deft and the plot fresh and ingenious." —Independent on Sunday
"The intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama..... The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading"—Publishers Weekly
“How many locked-room puzzles can the duo unlock before their Peculiar Crimes Unit is disbanded? Many more, one hopes.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A madcap mystery that’s completely crazy and great fun.” —Los Angeles Times
“Chris Fowler is a master of the classical form.” —New Y ork Times Book Review