Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review of Bryant and May – The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday, 2015)

The end of October and a scheming banker has not only collapsed a private merchant bank, he seems to be getting away with it. The injustice has not just anti-capitalists on the streets of London, but also ordinary citizens. In the depths of austerity it seems people have had enough of the blatant greed. One man, however, is taking his protest further than others and appears to be using his actions to try and whip the crowds into more of a frenzy. He starts by throwing a petrol bomb at the bank, killing a homeless man taking refuge in the doorway. Next he tars and feathers a banker. Each day there is another victim and soon it’ll be Guy Fawkes night when bonfires will lit across the nation. Trying to stop the arsonist is Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit of the Met Police. Hampered by other sections of the police and the bank, the two old detectives and their assistants race against time to find useful clues, worried that the city might go up in flames.

The Burning Man is the twelfth book in the Bryant and May series. In this outing they are trying to stop an arsonist wreaking revenge on people working in the banking sector after another financial scandal and who seems to be orchestrating the sentiments of a restless and angry public. After years of working for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, Bryant and May are long in the tooth and well versed in tackling difficult cases, but this one has them taxed. The killer is clever and quick moving, dispatching one person a day, and Bryant is starting to suffer from dementia. The climax of the week is going to be Guy Fawkes night at which point the city could tip-over into full-scale anarchy. There is much to like about The Burning Man: the wonderful set of characters, especially Bryant, and their interactions; the deep sense of place and all the historical factual snippets that are woven into the narrative; its political sensibilities and its critique of the ‘one percent’; and the lucid and engaging storytelling with a rising sense of tension. The story just carries the reader along in an entertaining, dark, and at time humorous romp. There were just two bumps in the tale – the fact that I was pretty confident I knew the identity of the killer from near the start; and the ending was a bit of damp squib. Nonetheless, a very enjoyable read.

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