Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday)

The Burning Man is the twelfth novel in the Bryant & May crime series by Christopher Fowler. Published by Doubleday in the UK, it's currently available to buy, and can be read with or without knowledge of the previous eleven books in the series. 

London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.

But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.

Using their network of eccentric contacts, elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May hunt down a murderer who adopts incendiary methods of execution. But they soon find their investigation taking an apocalyptic turn as the case comes to involve the history of mob rule, corruption, rebellion, punishment and the legend of Guy Fawkes.

At the same time, several members of the PCU team reach dramatic turning points in their lives - but the most personal tragedy is yet to come, for as the race to bring down a cunning killer reaches its climax, Arthur Bryant faces his own devastating day of reckoning.

‘I always said we’d go out with a hell of a bang,’ warns Bryant.

Last year, I read the first novel in the Bryant and May series, Full Dark House, and really enjoyed it. It was a fun, interesting and captivating crime drama set in London focusing on two Detectives operating in the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Unfortunately, I was never able to get around to reading more Bryant and May books, but when I saw The Burning Man crop up on NetGalley I knew I had to give it a shot. Christopher Fowler’s first novel in the series was awesome and I was hoping that The Burning Man would be more of the same, and even though it may be twelve books into the series, you can start reading The Burning Man even if you haven’t read a Fowler book before, or are, like myself, someone who hasn’t been able to catch up in time but has read one or more of the series.

Like Full Dark House, The Burning Man is a standalone novel that really works. The Peculiar Crimes Unit, including Arthur Bryant and John May, two elderly, eccentric detectives, are finding themselves presented with a problem of London on the brink of an all-out-war between rioters and the police, with violence starting to get out of control when a man is killed. All this, because of a banking scandal.

Bryant and May are naturally, perplexed, especially when more bodies start piling up with no clear link between them. It’s an interesting mystery that links back to the legend of Guy Fawkes, weaving its way into the history of London in a novel that’s handled very well with the gradual building of tension that’s present throughout its pages. Fowler knows how to keep you reading with the pace being handled very well, and whilst this book isn’t super fast, lending enough time to focus on the characters as well as the mystery itself, The Burning Man keeps the reader engaged and once the tension starts to increase, it doesn’t drop, with the book really paying off in the final act as the mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Regular readers of the series will no doubt be familiar with Bryant and May so far but the two Detectives are really handled well, and offer a slightly different Detective story, with despite the setting being very much a modern day contemporary story, it’s clear that the two Detectives belong in an earlier age. They’re elderly, and prefer to do things their way even if not everyone in the Police Force agrees with them. However, they get results, and are effective at what they do, even if they may be viewed as eccentric. Their characters themselves are often the source of great dialogue, with some witty humorous exchanges between the two that comes within the book’s pages. This humour keeps the book feeling fresh and energetic, and really makes it slightly different from other Ultra-serious Detective novels that can be found on shelves.

The Burning Man is a strong novel that makes a good entry point to a long-running series if you don’t want to go back and catch up on everything prior to this one. The mystery is intriguing and you’ll want to know what happens next, with the book’s two characters being one of the major selling points as fans of the series will no doubt love this book and what I say here probably won’t make much difference as to whether or not they’ll pick it up. As to the newcomers who are wanting to give a fresh, different crime series a shot, this book manages to be an excellent jumping on point. It also helps that it's one of the strongest crime novels of 2015 that I've read so far.

VERDICT: 8.75/10

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