Discovering Bryant and May

They always say “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but some covers are too intriguing to ignore. Such was the case when I ran across Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May books at the bookstore recently.

Each cover is a loosely illustrated hodge-podge of interesting items coming out of a box labeled “Peculiar Crimes Unit.” What could it all mean?  I had to find out.

Arthur Bryant and John May are the Odd Couple of british mystery. Bryant is a disheveled collector of historical curiosities who prefers intuitive thinking and questioning coven leaders or artists to solve his crimes. May is a tidy forward-thinker who prefers a more by-the-book approach to investigation. May is a fiend for new technology, often using his role in the PCU to test the department’s new gadgets. Bryant is no longer allowed to use the unit’s computers because of his habit of breaking the Internet. You catch my drift. They use their differences to solve the impossible.

What I liked most when I started reading The Water Room (book two in the series, my bookstore didn’t have book one, Full Dark House) was the sense of possibility. From the back cover description, it could be a supernatural mystery or it could be something mundane that only seems magical. As Mr.B put it, “You don’t know if you are going to get X-Files or Scooby Doo.” The book starts with the discovery of an old woman who seems to have drowned in river water while sitting in her living room. During the course of the investigation, three more people die, each death corresponding with one of the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water. The investigation leads to an obsessive artist and a system of lost rivers that actually do exist somewhere under London. In the end, it is all a matter of greed and delusion, but even knowing who did it and why can’t shake the sense of otherworldliness that Fowler has created.

I think that’s why I like these books. Fowler seems to be someone who can see the magic inherent in every day life and he makes the most mundane occurrences seem wondrous. With one partner living in the past and the other looking to the future, the present is an almost alien place to be.  Reading a book like that makes me look at the world with fresh eyes.

I would highly recommend the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries to anyone who appreciates odd British humor and/or mystical mysteries. If you like good, straightforward murder mysteries, then Bryant and May will probably be too convoluted for your tastes. They have the feel of Sherlock Holmes stories populated by slightly crazy people. In this instance, I am very glad for having judged a book by its cover. So far they have completely lived up to their intriguing artwork.

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

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