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Ten Second Staircase: A Bryant and May Mystery    by Christopher Fowler order for
Ten Second Staircase
by Christopher Fowler
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is back in the fourth episode in this unusual mystery series - investigating serial killings in their own peculiar fashion, besieged (as always) from above as their superiors attempt to close the unit down, and haunted by a past cold case that has had devastating repercussions for May's family.

Geriatric detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are still employed, despite their highly unorthodox methods and the disdain of their Metropolitan Police colleagues, because they have had significant past successes. But they also had a major failure - the case of the Leicester Square Vampire was never solved, and May's daughter Elizabeth was murdered. This tragedy left his granddaughter April psychologically damaged. But, despite her residual agoraphobia, May coaxes April to join the PCU, where she proves to be an effective addition.

As the story opens, Bryant is, rather unsuccessfully, giving a lecture to teens from the prestigious St. Crispin's Boys' school. He meets them again after the Highwayman claims his first victim, an artist found dead, floating in her own highly controversial sculpture - one of the boys was a witness. 'A politically sensitive situation, an impossible crime, a murky motive, no obvious leads, and a suspect who's been dead for nearly three centuries.' Who else but the PCU could catch the case?

More demi-celebrities die and there are spottings of the Highwayman at each location. As the story catches the public's imagination via the tabloids (which begin to portray the perpetrator as a cult hero), Bryant delves into witchcraft, the history of past London villains - including highwaymen and Robin Hood - and the PCU's old Leicester Square Vampire investigation. Subtle clues accumulate, and the elderly detectives are at a loss to solve the case, though they eventually do so at great personal risk.

Though I missed the earlier episodes, I enjoyed this mystery Odd Couple, whose investigative talents and personalities are complementary, and who share the belief that 'Truth and fairness are more important than procedure.' In Ten Second Staircase, Christopher Fowler offers a complex, intriguing puzzle with surprising resolutions to both the modern and the cold case.

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