Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler

Fowler, C. (2006). Ten second staircase. New York: Bantam.

This is yet another in the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) Mysteries series. Again, Fowler has us following multiple mysteries. One concerns the Leister Square Vampire—an ongoing cold case more than 30 years old. The other is a string of murders committed by someone called The Highwayman.

First an installation artist, Saralla White, is found floating upside down in her exhibit – dead. Then Danny Martell, a TV host and teen lifestyle guru with a dubious record, is found electrocuted in a gym. He was alone at the time—no one entered the room after he did. Alexander Paradine, an alternative comedian related to the Earl of Devonshire, and Anthony Sarne are killed around the same time. Paradine is lured to an abandoned building to do a voice over for a commercial in a sound studio. Instead he falls through a hole in the floor neatly hidden with rug tiles—four stories down plus a basement kills him. Sarne is taking a shower after swimming in a public pool at night when someone pours petrol through the shower pipe and then drops a match through a hole in the glass roof.

WARNING…  ENDING SPOILER– do not continue if you don’t want to hear the ending!

The PCU folks are under threat of closure unless they solve the rash of murders and provide light in the Leister Square Vampire mystery. As it turns out, both are somehow connected. A private school teacher, Brilliant Kingsmere, just happens to be the son of the Leister Square Vampire. The Highwayman, turns out not to be a man at all but a group of Kingsmere’s students who together commit these acts of murder because they are bored and feel dead to the world.

Bryant & May on the Loose: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler

Fowler, C. (2009). Bryant & May on the loose: A Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery. New York: Bantam Books.

What a wonderful novel. Christopher Fowles has come through again. This time the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) has been disbanded and kicked out of their office. Things look bleak until a member finds a dead body missing its head. Suddenly the PCU folks are back at it. Of course they have a makeshift office with no access to any police databases and are unpaid, but if they can pull it off they may be reinstated.

In addition to the body, someone is dressing as a stag and frightening folks in the Kings Cross area of London. There is a large government sponsored building project going on there to revitalize an area that is crime ridden and derelict. ADAPT has been working on the project for 13 years and has been buying people’s property to put in the new buildings. However, the architect in charge, Maddox, has realized he has overlooked one vital piece of property that could bring the whole project crashing down along with his career.

In 1940 during the blitz, the Porter’s house was destroyed (ll Camley ). The deed was hidden in the basement and just uncovered by one of the workers clearing the area for ADAPT. The worker is a good guy (T. Delaney) and wants to find the rightful owner. Maddox has a lunch meeting with Delaney to convince him to turn over the deed to ADAPT but Delaney is too smart. Unfortunately this means Maddox hires someone to burglarize Delaney and when Delaney surprises him, the villain (Mr. Fox) kills Delaney. Mr. Fox is hired by another person for a different burglary and this also results in a murder. Mr. Fox knows the person dressing as a stag to frighten off the ADAPT workers, so he dumps the bodies and removes the heads to try and incriminate Xander Toth (the stag man). It almost works out. But Mr. Fox wants to clean up all who know about his involvement (the folks who hired him) so there are two more murders.

Meanwhile the PCU folks are closing in. They finally put the pieces together and catch Mr. Fox, but at the last minute he kills someone helping the PCU regular staff (Liberty DuCain) and escapes. Now Bryant has made it his mission to find Mr. Fox … but we will have to wait for another book for that.

Part of the charm of the PCU books, is the delving into London’s hidden secrets. In Bryant & May on the Loose, we get history lessons about the Kings Cross, Battle Bridge area. This area has great historic significance as many famous wells and springs were found here, as well as pagan temples, one of which later became the location of the first Christian church. Fascinating stuff.

… the continued wanderings of a newly minted librarian

Christopher Fowler – my newly discovered author

While walking past some books as I performed my library closing duties (shutting gates, looking for hiding students, etc.) I spotted an intriguing looking cover and pulled the book. It looked good (beyond the cover). It was The Victoria vanishes: a Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery by Christopher Fowler.

I like mysteries (I was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan as a child), and I like London and this book filled my need of a fun, fast read. The characters are wonderful… old time lead detectives are eccentric to say the least. They consult witches, occult persons, museum curators who know everything there is to know about the pubs around London, etc. These folks think out of the box and get results and in the process are quite entertaining. The rest of the staff of the PCU (Peculiar Crimes Unit) are equally odd. All are quite human in that they have interesting bordering on annoying quirks. One is a constable who has his heart in the right place, but is clumsy beyond belief and is constantly tripping and stumbling while trying to perform the basics of his job.

I enjoyed this book so much I tracked down another of Fowler’s books, The White Corridor. This was the book published just before The Victoria Vanishes. The same characters are here and the plot involves two simultaneous mysteries. One is a peculiar death in the PCU’s morgue (the death of its medical examiner no less) and another possible murder who has come from the south of France into the Dartmoor countryside. The two aged lead detectives are trapped in a snowstorm along the motorway trying to solve both.

In both of the stories, an ongoing plot is the attempt of higher government officials to shut down the PCU for good. Thus far the quirky folks at the PCU prevail, and I have enjoyed two wonderfully funny and entertaining reads.

Now I am working on Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Eco’s work is much heavier than that of Fowler, but I am quite enjoying Foucault’s Pendulum as well. I have previously read The Name of the Rose also by Umberto Eco and quite enjoyed that.