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Bryant & May off the Rails: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery    by Christopher Fowler order for
Bryant & May off the Rails
by Christopher Fowler
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Reinstated and settled into their decrepit warehouse office on the Caledonian Road in London, Bryant, May and their Peculiar Crimes Unit is charged with running to ground the elusive and deadly Mr. Fox (a.k.a. the King's Cross Executioner) who has not only killed one of their own unit's detectives but has now escaped after being arrested and is again free to create more mayhem.

At the same time, there appears to be another serial killer loose in the city's underground system. The major question is, could this possibly be the mysterious Mr. Fox or another equally unstable and psychotic madman who is preying on his fellow citizens?

While trying to sift through the meager clues and conduct an investigation that involves keeping track of a houseful of university students who are linked to one of the subway murders, the indomitable Bryant dabbles in magic and card tricks. Not only does he bedevil his longtime friend and colleague, John May, but Arthur Bryant's bumbling legerdemain ultimately provides a key to solving the cases they are working on.

As much of this latest case unfolds beneath London's streets, Christopher Fowler takes this opportunity to fill his readers in on the history and lore of the world's oldest subway system. Naturally, Bryant's well documented, eclectic scholarship and his collection of esoteric erudition encompasses much of the system's past. Thus, he becomes the font of knowledge from which gush all the offbeat facts about what happens underground.

The sequel to the last Bryant & May thriller, Bryant & May on the Loose, this novel not only wraps up a few loose ends but also reestablishes the PCU's standing with the Home Office which had all but shut the unit down.

Although I am admittedly an ardent fan of the series and love this irascible duo, if asked for an objective opinion of this novel I would have to advise caution. Of the seven titles in the series this, alas, is one of the weaker ones. It may well seem to be a bit of a muddle and confuse those not familiar with the previous works.

I would recommend reading some of the earlier stories first, like The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks or Ten Second Staircase. Once you are hooked on the series and have fallen hopelessly in love with its two main protagonists, then read Bryant & May on the Loose followed by Bryant & May off the Rails.

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