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This is an established series to which I arrived late for various reasons. Was it the lovely hardback from Transworld, with its enticing London Underground-depicted cover and cardinal purple theme that drew me in? Or was it the slight eccentricity on the part of the author that I had perceived? Perhaps guilt over the backlist stocks I was holding and had not yet read? That’s a mystery in itself, but one thing’s for sure here: once I’d started Off the Rails I was hooked.
Coming late to this series, I did suffer my early moments of being perplexed. This seemed like a Golden Age novel time-catapulted into contemporary days with great resonance of our politically correct era. Luckily, the previous novel, now out in paperback, arrived as I was reading Off the Rails and the information sheet from the publisher opened my eyes. These are contemporary-set novels. Bryant and May are octogenarians. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is well … just that … peculiar; and our octogenarians do take the golden age of detection with them into our modern world. Thus, suspension of disbelief is key here, but if you are up for it then enormous fun awaits.
In Off the Rails the pressure is on for Arthur Bryant, John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit. They need to prove themselves to see the continuation of their unit, and they have been given just one week to catch a killer they have caught before, one who has killed one of their own. As the title suggests, trains are involved and murders are taking place on the London Underground. The ever-elusive Mr Fox needs to be caught, but he uses a false ID, is expertly disguised and leaves no trail. Above all, this novel draws on the author’s fascinating knowledge of and love for London. The plot takes us down into the tunnels of the Underground, including the no-longer used as well as the redundant stations, drawing on the history of the Underground. Keeping firmly with modern London, we have a great scene on the concourse of the new St Pancras station. As suspects are added to the mix, we take an accurate tour of student land.
This is not your average cosy; it’s a hugely entertaining and wonderfully quirky cosy. Even the Unit’s office accommodation is as tenuous and threatened as the Unit itself, with a gaping hole in the floor. (Surely a health and safety risk to our octogenarian investigators at the very least?) Combining the Golden Age with the contemporary, this series is certainly unique. The original Bryant and May may have had incendiary powers, but these fictional humans are also quite sparky. Not to be missed.
With thanks to Transworld for the copy reviewed.