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Bryant & May: Off the Rails – Christopher Fowler

OTRCF 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.

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5 comments on “Bryant & May: Off the Rails – Christopher Fowler

  1. Bonnie Furlong
    May 23, 2011

    The series is tremendous fun (I only did not enjoy one, and shan’t mention which, for fear of spoiling anyone else’s enjoyment). They’re page-turners, so I dogear page after page to Google later, when I go off on a treasure hunt, looking for all the weird places and artifacts that have been mentioned. I find almost all of them! The Water Room was my favorite, and continued my fascination with “lost” underground rivers and other waterways (sewers!) that started years ago, when I read The Quincunx, which gave me my lifetime mantra: Things can always get worse.

  2. crimeficreader
    October 28, 2010

    This was the first in the series for me, Paul. The biggest loss I can feel is not knowing the characters and learning of the backstory; albeit this one can be read on its own anyway! I hope you enjoy as much as I have.

  3. Paul D. Brazill
    October 28, 2010

    I do fancy this series. Added to the list. I think I’ll start from the first one, though.

  4. crimeficreader
    August 17, 2010

    Careful now, Norm, you are getting way ahead of yourself there…

  5. Norm
    August 17, 2010

    This may be a series I would enjoy, as octogenarian investigators are more my age group. ;o)

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