My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the first in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series and since I get most of my mysteries from Mystery Guild book club, that means I don’t always start a series at the beginning (even if I’m led to believe I am…) So I’ve already read most of the series before the library got the first two books. I have to say, in this case, reading out of order was a good thing.
Even though this starts with a bang, quite literally, as an explosion destroys the PCU’s office along with it, Arthur Bryant, one of the founding members of the unit, this started off so boring. His partner of sixty years, John May is distraught. Outside of his agoraphobic granddaughter and a son who doesn’t speak to him, Bryant is the only family John has. Both he and Arthur are in their 80s and still on the job so he sets out to find out who wanted his friend dead, knowing that whoever set the bomb did so knowing Bryant’s habit of going into the office late. He quickly comes to believe that it has something to do with their very first case at the Palace Theatre back during the war.
In all honesty, if I hadn’t read some of the others in the series I might have quit before this got interesting. I already knew the characters and I was confused. I have no idea how that jumble would appeal to a newcomer to the series. However, once we go back in time to the first case, the story picks up and becomes interesting, in spite of its slow confusing start.
Murders of a very strange nature are happening at the Palace Theatre. It starts out with a dancer having both her feet cut off by the lift and those feet being left in a food vendor’s oven outside the theatre. The musical being put on is Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, a very risqué import from France. If the war hadn’t been diverting everyone’s attention the show probably would not have gone on. Bryant has been assigned the case and May is freshly assigned to the unit, i.e. two twenty year olds deemed unfit or exempt from military service. They weren’t even truly meant to be doing a homicide investigation. It’s not an easy partnership. Bryant is very bizarre, consulting mediums and psychics and has a head full of arcane knowledge. May is more grounded. They are also being spied on by another new member, Sidney Biddle who is reporting back to the chief of Ds looking to shut the unit down.
The story flips through multiple heads so the point of view varies and it flips back and forth in time, though most of it is spent in the past. Once it gets going with the mystery of the theatre it becomes pretty good (though not that easy to solve, I preferred the red herring explanation to the Phantom of the Opera knock off ending) It does a good job of conveying the claustrophobic fear of nightly German bomb raids. Having just seen the remnants of the damage with my own eyes sixty odd years later, I can’t even imagine London at that time. I do find it odd and highly unlikely that Bryant, May and Fitch (the medical examiner) all started this job together and are all still on the job sixty years later and that Forthright and Biddle’s kids and grandkids are with the unit as well. That’s a bit of a stretch but then again much about the series is like the title, peculiar.
View all my reviews