Book Review: Bryant and May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

Posted January 30, 2019 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: Bryant and May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Bryant and May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler
Genres: Crime Mystery
Published by Bantam on December 15, 2015
Pages: 416
Format: eBook
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Full Dark House, The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant and May Off the Rails, London’s Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant and May, The Memory of Blood, The Invisible Code, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart

Twelfth in the Bryant & May crime mystery series and revolving around two ancient detectives who don’t operate according to the rules.

This is a series you read if you love quirky characters, humor, snark, English history, and, oh yes, a mystery.

My Take

This series is character-driven, and what characters they are. Oh, lord! Bryant is off-the wall with his deducing…which always turns out to be right. May performs as Bryant’s foil, his suave sidekick. The rest of the PCU are colorful in their way — Meera certainly has some major advances for her character! The character who cracks me up the most, though, is Raymond Land. Omigod, the things he says will have you rolling on the floor. The team does like poke away at Land, and May warns that Raymond likes to fantasize that he’s in control.

“I don’t want anybody here thinking for themselves.”

“For now it’s back to using a secure code. I’ve taped it onto the wall above the machine.”

“Why did you decide to become a copper? All you do is question everything.”

And, shockingly, he actually does some honest introspection with a possibility for change!

As for “hidden” messages within the story, damn, Fowler really resonates with his social commentary about government and corporate corruption; muckety-mucks given too much leeway — especially those tax avoiders, and then the government goes after the little guys and pounds the hell out of ’em; the treatment of the elderly; snarking at the French and social media; people who are used, cheated, and cast aside; the wasteland of celebrity; the punishment of people like WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden; and, retirement age being put off, people told they won’t have the nice life of their parents…if they can get a job at all.

I do adore all the history Fowler throws in. Fascinating stuff that never made it into our schools! There’s that poke Eleanor makes about the BBC training course on making decisions…LMAO… Oh, geez, the politician who’s claiming these criminal bankers are “misunderstood heroes”. Does that sound familiar?

There is action in Bryant and May and the Burning Man, a combined sort of action that takes into account Bryant’s age and increasing infirmities as well as Colin’s and Fraternity’s youthful exuberance. Hmmm, I guess you could say there’s something for everyone, lol.

Plot-wise, it’s a combination of the locked-room mystery, the ticking clock scenario, a number of sneaky plot twists, red herrings, etc., and of course, there’s plenty of backstory that Fowler weaves in.

More of the Bryant antics find him wandering on stage during a performance, and we have no idea until the end of that little scene. It’s too, too Bryant and will keep you laughing. And it’s scary when we find out how far gone Bryant is; lord knows, he’s scared too until the end when he accepts his condition. It’s rather encouraging, really. For Bryant, if not for Bryant & May!

The Story

Enraged when yet another corrupt financier is accused of insider trading, mobs riot on London’s peaceful streets in the week before Guy Fawkes Night. Then someone hurls a Molotov cocktail at the Findersbury Private Bank’s front door, killing a homeless man on its steps.

The violence is escalating, calling so many coppers in that the powers-that-be call in Bryant, May, and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Then a second victim is reported dead in similar fiery circumstances, one who also has ties to the troubled bank, and Bryant refuses to believe this is mere coincidence.

As the riots grow more intense and the body count climbs, Bryant and May throw themselves in the line of fire, hunting for a killer who’s adopting incendiary methods of execution, on a snaking trail of clues with roots in London’s history of rebellion, anarchy, and harsh justice.

The Characters

Senior Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May have been partners in the PCU since the start of World War II. Bryant is quite the quirky, esoteric detective who makes connections based on history. He usually dresses like a homeless man. May is a very well-dressed lady’s man, always choosing the wrong type. Alma Sorrowbright used to be Bryant’s landlady but is more of a roommate these days.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit began…
…during World War II and was intended to solve crimes that could disrupt society. Currently, the ineffective Raymond Land is their leader (Leanne, his wife, is leaving him for a flamenco instructor); Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright who channels 1950s film stars in her dress and is psychic (her mother, Gladys, had worked for PCU in the beginning); Sergeant Jack Renfield is having an affair with Longbright; Dan Banbury, a family man, is their crime scene manager and IT guy; Fraternity DuCaine is the gay detective constable (DC) who desperately wants to become a permanent part of the PCU; DC Meera Mangeshkar is the always angry one; and, DC Colin Bimsley has spatial issues and is in love with Meera. Giles Kershaw is their off-site (the St Pancras Coroner’s Office) forensic pathologist with the gloomy Rosa Lysandrou as his assistant. Crippen is the staff cat Bryant introduced to the office.

The two Daves are workmen who will never stop working on the old warehouse where the PCU is currently headquartered. The PCU’s supervisor is usually the City of London public liaison officer. It was Orion Banks who’s moved on to Channel Four’s publicity department. Oskar Kasavian is still out of the picture, but that idiot Leslie Faraday is back!??! Miss Queally is his assistant. Dr Gillespie is keeping an eye on Bryant’s health.

The City of London (CoL)
Superintendent Darren “Missing” Link is an old-school copper who thinks he’s deeply moral, but is a bully. He’s working under the Serious Crime Directorate…which is under investigation.

Senior Officer Fire Blaize Carter is with the fire department and is a fan of the PCU. Ayo Onatade is one of their legal experts with the specialist support unit for public order. Anjam Dutta is a security expert at the City of London Surveillance Center.

The Coven of Saint James the Elder is…
…led by Maggie Armitrage, a white witch ranked at the Grand Order Grade Four. She’s also a friend of Bryant’s and a consultant for the PCU. Fifi Lamour is Maggie’s new spirit guide. Daphne is another witch temporarily staying with Maggie.

Eleanor Hamilton is a feisty historical novelist and a specialist on the London Mob. Esmeralda, who claims she’s Arthur’s wife, is off her nut and yet brilliant, a former professor at Oxford. Monica Greenwood is a painter and a super-recogniser; she’d been married to Paul/Gareth (The Water Room, 2). Raymond Kirkpatrick is an English language professor who works at the British Library. Wendy Barnestaple is a psychotherapist on Harley Street. She does a fascinating assessment of Maggie!

The Findersbury Private Bank of Crutched Friars is…
…in the news for bankruptcy caused by Dexter Cornell, one of the partners. James Burnham, Alice French, and Gunther Lange also work for the bank.

Augustine is Dexter’s entitled son who finds Arthur compelling, lol. Richard is Augustine’s new stepfather. Edgar Digby is Cornell’s lawyer. Bratling is the Cornell chauffeur. Yolanda is Cornell’s Spanish housekeeper. Vernon Harding is a government bank advisor who started with Hard News.

Freddie Weeks is an ADD homeless man who can’t keep a job; his last one was at Sustainable Market; where Judith Morrell is one of the managers. Sue and Gerry Weeks are his parents. Joanna Papis, a.k.a., Joanna Smietana, Weeks’ former girlfriend, almost has her accountancy degree. Gretchen is one of Joanna’s roommates. The gay Glen Hall is a shark of a banker who collects movie posters. Aaron Mossman used to run an anarchist website and dated Glen. Jonathan De Vere made his money through social media apps, including Apptly Said and CharityMob and is currently developing apps for charitable causes. His pregnant wife, Lena, specializes in restorations. Katya is their cleaning lady. Insurrection is where Frank Leach, a.k.a., Jakob Tarnobrzeg, an online moneylender, is found.

Various protest groups include…
Make Capitalism History (Make Capitalism History 2 is a splinter group), Occupy, Break the Banks, Disobey, AntiCap is a splinter cell from Anonymous UK, and Kill List.

Mick Flannery is a fake protestor. Mrs Demitriou is his annoyed landlady. Karin Scott is the night clerk at a hostel. The characters in the play include Roger and Amanda. Linda Kzsowolski manages the Transformer, another hostel. Ryan Malhotra is a medical doctor whom Meera’s mother thinks would make Meera the ideal husband. Meera wants to know who Ryan is dating, her or her mother, ROFL! Alejandro Figueroa owns a Brazilian café. Metish Kapur runs the New Delhi Express Diner. Henry Steppe is a former banker and psychologist who has a passion for arson. And he’s the sneakiest bugger, lol. Hard News is a gossip magazine Steppe is leading around. Janet Ramsey is its editor; Miles is an associate editor.

The Cover and Title

The background for the cover is a horizontal pale wood grain with a silhouette of Westminster on the left. A bonfire blazes away, engulfing part of the palace, a burning torch and two placards crossed in front of it. At the bottom is a Guy Fawkes mask, leaning up against the “Man”. (I got a laugh at the series info on one of the placards.) A testimonial is at the very top in a deep red while the rest of the text is in a distressed black, starting with the title that right justifies itself almost to the bottom, framing the building and the column of riotous objects. At the bottom, an info blurb appears just above the author’s name.

The title revolves around riots and anger at corrupt bank officials which inspire Bryant and May and the Burning Man.

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