When the autopsy fails to identify a specific cause of death, Arthur Bryant, the nuttier half of the Bryant & May team and co-leader of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, naturally wants the case. But the City of London police have jurisdiction and the PCU, being personae non gratae in the Home Office, lack the political backing to muscle them aside.
Certainly, their enemy-in-chief, that satan in a three-piece suit, Oscar Kasavian, isn't about to lift a finger to help them. He has promised to wipe out the PCU and, particularly, its beyond-retirement-age leads. Imagine Bryant and May's surprise, then, when Kasavian almost humbly asks them to help him with a problem involving his wife, Sabira.
Bryant and May are hardly thrilled by what they see as a baby-sitting job and a no-win assignment but, as they and the rest of the PCU team begin to investigate, the case takes on ever larger proportions. Governmental corruption, whistleblowers in private industry, mental illness and its history in London, private clubs and their arcana, Russian gangsters, codes and ciphers, and the supernatural are all thrown into this heady mix. On top of all that, there are disquieting revelations of how the British class system, cronyism and the complete disregard of commercial/governmental conflicts of interest all conspire to ensure that a cabal of venal and ruthless men stay in power.
But this is no grim, cynical, deadly serious police procedural. With the PCU, that's just not possible. Arthur Bryant is the absent-minded fellow with his latest meal evidenced down the front of his rumpled clothes, his cell phone rendered unusable by the melted sweets all over it, and a brain that defines "nonlinear." He can't understand why people take exception to his insults––or to his conducting experiments at home and in the office involving things like pig carcasses and explosives. John May is Bryant's opposite: sartorially impeccable, careful to massage egos when necessary, and a believer that the simplest answer is usually the right one.
Despite their vast differences, Bryant and May make an effective team and, as always, they go right down to the wire in their investigation. I was listening to the book while walking and was so riveted by the book's last chapters that I walked a lot further than I'd intended. (Hmm, how about a new marketing approach for audiobooks: So enthralling you won't even notice you're exercising while listening!)
this London walk, or this one, or this one with teeny tiny statues, or this collection of 15 excellent London websites. And these are just from 2012.
If you're already a fan of the PCU series, I can give you a preview of what's coming up, courtesy of Fowler's blog. He wrote recently that this latest book wrapped up a story arc, and he asked for comments to help him solidify his ideas about where to go for his next book. Here's his conclusion:
"One of these [next two PCU novels] will definitely feature an incapacitated Bryant and lots of old cases in the course of uncovering a new one, while the other book will be pretty sinister and dark-themed.
Plus, more eccentric characters, strange bits of London, oddments of history, arcana, sleuthing, impossible murder and general weirdness. Oh, and something impossible happening in the ultimate locked room, the Tower of London."I can hardly wait.
Note: Mysteriously, Bryant & May and the Invisible Code is not yet published in book form in the U.S., even though the audiobook is. Being a naturally impatient person and a big fan of both this series and the narrator of the books, Tim Goodman, I got it as soon as it was available. Based on the U.S. publication date of the preceding book, I'd guess that this one will be published in the U.S. sometime in the first half of 2013.
The next-to-last image and the two Bryant & May cartoon images in this post are from Christopher Fowler's blog. Versions of this review appear on the Amazon and Audible product pages, under my username there.