Monday, August 24, 2009
Required Reading: THE VICTORIA VANISHES, by Christopher Fowler
The sixth of Fowler's Bryant & May series, this was intended to be the last chronicle of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. However, Fowler couldn't let his series schlump off into the sunset, and revived it with the upcoming BRYANT & MAY ON THE LOOSE.
THE VICTORIA VANISHES opens shortly after the last book, WHITE CORRIDOR, with the PCU gathered at a wake for pathologist Oswald Finch. Renfield, an unpopular policeman, is being assigned to the PCU, much to the resentment of the long-time detectives there. But Bryant, after a few, is lurching off into the streets when he sees a woman walking into a pub, the Victoria Cross. Fascinated by old pubs, it sticks in his mind, and resurfaces when the woman is found dead in that neighborhood. Bryant goes to investigate the Victoria Cross....only to find a grocery store, and research shows that the pub has been closed for decades. But now this turns up a bizarre serial-killer plot, with a murderer offing lonely mature women in crowded pubs. But there could be more to it than anyone realizes...
Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes machinations by the PCU's political enemies in the police force may have finally come across a way of shutting down the unit once and for all. And the secrets that Bryant and May have been keeping from each other are finally coming to light.
THE VICTORIA VANISHES is a roaring good read, full of the atmosphere of a crumbling, vanishing London, where historic sites are being torn down in favor of modern developments. There's a nostalgia here, to be sure, but also a very human desire for stability in an ever-changing urban landscape.
The one debit is a somewhat hurried ending, when all is made clear in a sudden tumult, but that doesn't detract from the overall fun of the book. It ends on a note of semi-finality, fine with ending where it was but open to further exploration. And now we know there's more coming down the pike, and I can't wait.
THE VICTORIA VANISHES is great fun and will have you wanting to snoop the crumbling corner pubs in your own city. Go hoist a drink for me, why don't you?