Book Review: The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

Posted June 14, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 3 Comments

Book Review: The Memory of Blood 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.

The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler
Genres: Mystery, British
Published by Bantam on March 27, 2012
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
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 Invisible Code, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Bryant and May and the Burning Man

Ninth in the Bryant & May quirky mystery series set in London and revolving around two detectives who should have retired years ago.

My Take

It’s a dive into the history of Punch and Judy theatre, and it’s fascinating as Salterton takes us back into its origins and purpose as well as who the cast is actually meant to represent. There’s also a brief foray into censorship in London theatres by the Lord Chamberlain and historic bits of stage magic. It’s very much like today when a new bit of technology arises and everyone has to play with it.

Each installment in the series has explored various aspects of history, particularly London’s, and I believe that Oskar Kasavian’s vendetta is part of the overall series arc along with Bryant and May’s “pending” retirement. The series has also been Fowler’s soapbox, as he expresses his own views on society, politics, policework, the human condition…and “the Disneyfication of the West End”. I gotta say I agree with most everything he’s said so far in the series. And it’s why that third-person omniscient point-of-view is so useful, as it allows him to include those opinions.

It’s the characters in the PCU that make this so much fun to read, well, that and Fowler’s impossible mysteries.

Fowler makes such great use of the “report” (it’s a cleverly disguised info dump) to fill the reader in on the characters and the back story of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. It seems that Fowler had a presentiment about Wikileaks as well, lol. I loved Fowler’s note that the University of London is trying to offer a course that explains Bryant’s methods, lol.

I can get into this:

“Clutter, either mental or physical, is the sign of a healthy curiosity.”

I am SO healthy…

Once you get past the report, we start at the end with a modified reverse chronology plot beat and segue into a locked-room mystery that ends with a twist of a surprise ending. And yet, as difficult as this was to figure out, as intriguing as was Punch’s history, and with that connection Meera makes toward the end (The Victoria Vanishes, 6) — he should’ve left it alone, but all that poking and attacking… — which only makes me want to dive into The Invisible Code, 10, it was a bit tedious.

Bryant is fascinatingly rude; I’m taking notes.

Considering who the murderer turns out to be, who was digging through Baine’s briefcase?

For a bit of domestic drama, Bryant has lost his case for his Chalk Hill factory abode and has to move. I can’t wait to see how he “fits in” to his next home!

The Story

For the crew of the New Strand Theatre, the play The Two Murderers seems less performance than prophecy when a cast party ends in the shocking death of the theater owner’s son. The crime scene is most unusual, even for Bryant and May. In a locked bedroom without any trace of fingerprints or blood, the only sign of disturbance is a gruesome life-size puppet of Mr. Punch laying on the floor. Everyone at the party is a suspect, including the corrupt producer, the rakish male lead, the dour set designer, and the assistant stage manager, who is the wild daughter of a prominent government official.

It’s this last fact that threatens the Peculiar Crimes Unit’s investigation, as the government’s Home Office, wary of the team’s eccentric methods, seeks to throw them off the case. But the nimble minds of Bryant and May are not so easily deterred.

Delving into the history of the London theater and the disturbing origins of Punch and Judy, the detectives race to find the maniacal killer before he reaches his even deadlier final act.

The Characters

Arthur Bryant and John May are senior detectives who should have retired, but they enjoy their work too much. And besides, what else would they do? The incredibly rude and eccentric Bryant has handled almost every type of case there is, in a most odd manner, using psychics, healers, New Age fringe-dwellers, etc. Victor is his ancient Mini Cooper. Alma Sorrowbridge is Bryant’s West Indian housemate (and his former landlady).

May is the socially ept half of the team who loves dressing well, and loves the ladies. Brigitte is the divorced Frenchwoman May fears he’s losing. Jane Upton is his ex-wife currently in an asylum. He is estranged from his son, Alex, to whom his granddaughter April fled (Bryant and May Off the Rails). Gwen Kaye is his married sister.

The rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) was…
…one of seven experimental units created during World War II. Since 1945, the PCU has been under fire by politicians and rescued by politicians. These days, the Home Office works to sabotage the PCU. Raymond Land is the acting head who has been trying to transfer out for years. His wife, Leanne, is constantly cheating on him, but he’s unaware of it. Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright had been an Olympic javelin hopeful and has had a fascination for 1950s film stars and their style of dress. Her mother, Gladys Forthright, used to work for PCU, and her father, Harris, also worked for the Metropolitan Police. Crime Scene Manager Dan Banbury is also the IT tech with a ten-year-old son. Sergeant Jack Renfield flips back and forth on his support for the PCU and has a reputation as an old-school copper. He also has a thing for Longbright. Police Constables Meera Mangeshkar, Colin Bimsley, and Fraternity Ducaine are also quite loyal, although Meera has anger management issues and clashes with Bryant and May as well as filing complaints against them. Bimsley’s father and uncle are also former PCU. Bimsley does have Diminished Spatial Awareness (DSA) and keeps trying to date Meera. It’s that bet at the end that does it, lol. Bargepole was Bimsley’s childhood cat that triggered the DSA. Fraternity was Liberty‘s brother (Bryant & May on the Loose, 7). Crippen is a cat who survived.

Giles Kershaw is a forensic pathologist working as the St. Pancras coroner, but continues to help out the PCU. His brother-in-law was the last Home Secretary. Rosa “Mrs. Danvers” Lysandrou is the scary “housekeeper” at St. Pancras. Dr. Leo Hendrick is the resident coroner at Bermondsey.

The Home Office (HO) has…
…purview over the PCU with Leslie Faraday, your typical sleazoid bureaucrat, the HO Liaison with the PCU. Miss Queally is his personal assistant. Oskar Kasavian is an intimidating supervisor with Internal Security and practically panting at the bit to get the PCU shut down. Sabotage, blackmail, murder, whatever works. Lucy Clementine is a plant.

The cast and associates of The Two Murderers include…
…billionaire Robert Julius Kramer is a real estate mogul who sees a parallel with Punch’s sociopathy and his own ambitions. Judith is his second wife; Stella was his first. Noah is their eleven-month-old son. Gloria is the nanny. Gregory Baine is the producer and Kramer’s accountant; Susan is his girlfriend. Della Fortress and Marcus Sigler are the leads. Russell Haddon is the director; Naida is his drunk girlfriend. Ella Maltby is in charge of set design and comes from a long line of model makers. She’s creative, but gruesome. Ray Pryce wrote the play, sort of. Barnesly is the stage manager; Gail Strong has just been hired as the assistant stage manager. She’s also the wayward daughter of the Public Buildings Minister and the granddaughter of the Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. Mona Williams and Neil Crofting are aging actors playing bit parts. Larry Hayes is the wardrobe master. Mohammed al-Nahyan is the carpenter. Jolie Christchurch is the front-of-house manager. Mrs. Blimey is the cleaner at the theatre.

Irma Bederke works in the Human Resources Department of Farcom and is the Kramers’ neighbor. Cruikshank Holdings is a private, illegal nest egg. Amir Sahin is a workman at the Cannon Street Station. Mick Leach is the foreman. Edgar Digby is Maltby’s lawyer.

Punch and Judy and…
…various automata. The full iconic Punch and Judy cast includes Punch, Judy, their Baby, the Beadle, Scaramouche, Toby, Pretty Poll, a Clown, a Courtier, an Archer, the Police Constable, the Doctor, Jim Crow the black servant, the Tradesman, the Distinguished Foreigner, the Alligator, the Blind Man, the Ghost, Jack Ketch is the Hangman, Mephisto the Devil, and Death.

Madame Blavatsky was found up in the attic of the current PCU office. Yeah, that office fits right in with Bryant’s interests. It was once used by the Alistair Crowley’s Occult Revivalist Society for their meetings.

Dudley Salterton, a ventriloquist, does Punch and Judy shows in Broadstairs and owns a dilapidated waxworks museum. He’s also the foremost authority on Punch and Judy in Britain and a former academic at the British Museum. Nimrod Granville, who runs Pollock’s Toy Museum, is the last working expert on Victorian theatrical toys. And his talk about those Victorian toys’ endurance will make you cry. Maggie Armitage is the Grand Order Grade IV White Witch of the Coven of St. James the Elder and yet another of Arthur’s consultants (and friends). Daphne is a member of the coven and seeing sprites.

Anna Marquand is Bryant’s biographer and freelances for Icarus, the publisher who plans to publish Bryant’s book. She also transcribes for the Classical Studies Department. Rose Marquand is her lazy, selfish mother. Sheena is a young woman who volunteers to help Rose out. The Hagans are neighbors and the local four-generation criminal family. Joseph is the father. Ashley Hagan particularly scares her. Bunny is the youngest daughter.

Tooting Bec is a public swimming pool. Donna is the cashier and a friend of Anna’s. The Ladykillers Café with its 1950s theme is near the PCU office and popular with the team. Brenda and Yvonne are its twenty-something owners. Janet Ramsey is the editor of Hard News, a gossip daily (Ten Second Staircase, 4). Alex Lansdale is the theatre reviewer for Hard News.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a soft blue-violet, sponged and stenciled with a proscenium arch in a darker shade. The title and author’s name are in a script font in black and frame a cartoonish Punch and Judy act that represents events in the story. Yep, even the graphics that surround the deep rust curtained stage with its pointed knife, the skeleton dangling from the “B” in the title, the theatrical comedy and tragedy masks, the pitchfork, and the bag of popcorn are part of the act. The series information is in a scrolly frame in the front center of the stage floor.

The title is a bid for revenge, in The Memory of Blood for family wronged.

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3 responses to “Book Review: The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

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