Christopher Fowler’s latest book, Bryant and May and the Burning Man is the latest in the long-running Peculiar Crimes series. I’ve found that with many series, particularly mysteries, it’s pretty obvious when the author has either gotten bored (some books suffer from what would on television be called a back-door pilot when the main characters are shunted off so we can focus on new people, perhaps even in a new place) or run out of ideas (this is often hinted at with lazy, cut and paste character introductions). Luckily, Fowler suffers from neither of these.
The Burning Man is just as interesting, well-plotted, and funny as previous entries. Part of the reason that the characterization remains fresh is because Fowler allows his characters to grow, change, learn, and even leave, if that’s what makes sense for them. Most of them, like most of us, don’t really like change, so the speed at which people make these decisions (or are forced into them) is realistic. Because of this, the series and this book don’t fall into the trap that some books do, where the Big Giant Reset Button is pushed between entries so that the publisher doesn’t get nervous.
This is a mystery, a proper one with misdirection and red herrings and evidence being accumulated through interviews, forensics, and CCTV footage, but none of it is boring, nor does it feel as if the author is dumping information to get it out of the way. I especially love Bryant’s interjections of his massive mental files of Weird London History. I can imagine Fowler’s delight when he stumbles across one of these in his real life and then gets to put it in the next book. The research (and the enthusiasm with which it is presented) has infiltrated my brain to the point that when I’m reading a non-fiction work about London, I’m familiar because of Bryant and May.
If you like engaging, charming, and delightful mysteries, read all of the Bryant and May books. You could, I suppose, start with this one, but you’ll want to read the previous ones to get the full effect. I think I just gave you homework, but you won’t mind. It’s worth it.