In the 9th outing for the intrepid sleuths, Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is sent to investigate the tragic death of baby Noah during a party to celebrate the opening of a new play, The Two Murderers. It seems to be a locked room mystery: the baby was alone, the door locked and no one was there except for a life-sized doll of Mr. Punch whose fingermarks appear on the baby’s body. As Bryant & May and their colleagues try to unravel this strange case, the body count rises and each murder resonates with scenes from the Punch and Judy show. No one is what they seem and everyone is hiding something.

Arthur Bryant is also finally writing his memoirs and mousey Anna Marquand is the lucky person who gets to transcribe Bryant’s memories. Except she isn’t all that lucky because she’s soon found dead from what looks like an unfortunate accident soon after she gives Bryant an edited draft of his memoirs and is mugged on her doorstep. As DS Janice Longbright is sent to investigate exactly what happened, it becomes clear that someone is after something Anna had in her possession. What is it and does it have anything to do with Arthur Bryant? It looks like the Home Office and Ministry of Defence have something to hide and they aren’t shy about silencing people that get in their way.

Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood is in effect a two-forked mystery. One explores the incestuous, back-stabbing world of London’s theatres and the other, the murky dealings of the government and the nature of covering up past mistakes.

It’s such joy to read Fowler’s mysteries which aren’t just whodunnits but a real treasure trove of eccentric characters and lots of interesting facts about London. It makes me glad I live in the city (although the murders don’t!) and it’s always a pleasure to be reacquainted with the Peculiar Crimes squad. They seriously are my favourite police characters and I want to be friends with them. The PCU have also recently relocated from their offices on top of Mornington Crescent tube station to an old building in King’s Cross that used to house spiritualists and mediums with an attic like a hoarder’s dream. Hilarious.

So do, do try the Bryant & May books. The mysteries are interesting, there’s always some kind of twist and, above all, you get to meet the eccentric and lovable old school sleuth Arthur Bryant!

I thought I’d be kind to myself after my holiday and slowly ease back into normal life by choosing Bryant and May on the Loose by Christopher Fowler. I wanted to savour the book and revel in Fowler’s extensive knowledge of London. But someone had reserved it at my library and I had to zip through it in a couple of days. Never mind, Fowler always delivers and I still enjoyed it tremendously.

Originally planned to comprise six books, Fowler’s legion of fans including myself leapt with joy when we found out that due to popular demand, the series has been extended. From the very first book, Fowler’s stories hark back to the golden age of mystery but updated to modern London. I love the way he introduces the esoteric, the fantastic and the electronic and binds them together with an intricate plot, all the while presenting us with some wonderful characters who are funny, whimsical, flawed and very human.

In this, the seventh volume in the series, we are re-united with Arthur Bryant & John May, although the Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded at the end of book 6, The Victoria Vanishes. However, strange goings-on in King’s Cross including a former member of the PCU finding a headless corpse in a freezer at the back of a kebab joint coupled with sightings of a mythical beast with razor-sharp antlers pique the interest of Bryant and May and the PCU is granted a lease of life to tidy up this hiccup in the regeneration of King’s Cross. Failure to do so would mean heads would roll and severe repercussions all the way to the highest levels of the Establishment.

The seediness which can’t quite be erased from King’s Cross, the ever-changing landscape of building work around the station which hides so much history and secrets and the myth of the antlered beast who will rise again to protect the land is something many Londoners are familiar with. But Fowler’s depiction of his two senior detectives and their colourful colleagues racing against time to unmask the highly intelligent murderer makes this a delightful and thoughtful read.

I was a little heart-broken towards the end, but perked up considerably to find that Bryant and May Off the Rails will be published in June 2010.

For those of you who aren’t acquainted with Bryant and May, you may wish to reconsider and start with the first book in the series, Full Dark House. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I’m submitting this book for the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.