On a rainswept London night, the wealthy unscrupulous Robert Kramer hosts a party in his penthouse just off Trafalgar Square. But something is wrong. The atmosphere is uncomfortable, the guests are on edge. And when Kramer’s new young wife goes to check on their baby boy, she finds the nursery door locked from the inside.

Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood

Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood

Breaking in, the Kramers are faced with an open window, an empty cot, and a grotesque antique puppet of Mr Punch lying on the floor. It seems that young Noah Kramer was thrown from the building, but the child was strangled, and the marks of the puppet’s hands are clearly on his throat…what’s more, there was a witness.

It’s a perfect case for the Peculiar Crimes Unit. As John May and his team interrogate the guests, Arthur Bryant heads into the secret world of automata and stagecraft, illusions and effects. His suspicions fall on the staff of Kramer’s company, who have been employed to stage a gruesome new thriller in the West End. As a second impossible death occurs, the detectives uncover forgotten museums and London eccentrics, and take a trip to a seaside Punch & Judy show.

Then Bryant’s biographer suddenly dies. Was it a tragic accident, or could the circumstances of her death be related to the case? There’s just one hour left to solve the crime, but Bryant has buried himself away with his esoteric books. The stage is set for a race against time with a surprising twist…

Incredibly entertaining, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May and The Memory of Blood is another title – this year – that has taken me by complete surprise and entertained me from start to finish. The narrative is infectious and flows remarkably well throughout and together with an intelligent and humorous dialogue that had me laughing throughout, this book is a certain winner. In many ways Fowler’s prose reminded me of LC Tyler’s Herring on the Nile with its dry sense of humour and a quirky and cantankerous lead detective, miss it, miss out!

The Memory of Blood is the ninth title in the long standing Bryant & May partnership and serves as my introduction to the mind and intellect of author Christopher Fowler and boy, what an introduction it is; I couldn’t put the book down. I’m always concerned when I begin a series this far gone and approach it with a slight trepidation asking the inevitable questions – will I understand the characters, have I missed too much background history to enjoy it and will I get the in jokes.

Glancing at the first few pages my fears were allayed when I read a “wikileaks” document charting the history of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, or PCU, and its staff including protagonists Arthur Bryant and John May and the rest of the motley crew. You don’t of course have to read it but it does give a rather insightful look at past events and who plays what role in this unusual gathering of detectives and constables. This document sets the tone and standard for the entire book.

I don’t know about you but I for one am freaked out by Punch & Judy – or at least I was as a young kid – and when I read the press blurb from Transworld publishers that accompanied the book I readily admit I was more than a little scared by the subject and concerned I wouldn’t enjoy the book. But a funny thing happened during the course of the book, I began to understand what Punch is all about. Slowly but surely I relaxed and understood the fascination with the puppet and how he has survived for so many years, continuing a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Fowler tackles the Punch & Judy angle very well and not only does he add ample background information on Punch and his cohorts he somehow convinced me that Punch himself was guilty of murder!

Characterisation is wonderful and I was thoroughly entertained by the coupling of Bryant & May but for me Bryant steals the show with his quirky lines and off handed humour. An enigmatic detective, an old fart really, Bryant entertains throughout and to be honest I didn’t want him to solve the crime for that heralded the end of the book and another adventure. There are no weak characters in The Memory of Blood and each serving a purpose no matter how big or small their role may be. I never once felt a desire to skip a dialogue or gloss over a bit character. They sucked me in for the duration and my only regret came when I closed the book for the final time.

So there we have it, a remarkably quirky book that entertains – it does what it says on the tin – The Memory of Blood will certainly not be the last Christopher Fowler book I read. I only hope that I don’t meet Punch & Judy in a dark alley anytime soon!

Bravo Mr Fowler.

Published by Transworld Publishers The Memory of Blood is available in Hardback & Kindle.

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