Reader reviews for The Memory of Blood: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

Bryant and May are up to their usual hijinks in this novel. Bryant off on his own trying to solve the case with his unorthodox style that no one else understands and May trying to steer him in a different saner direction. This case involved Punch and Judy and I loved learning all about this puppet show, had never known the origins before or exactly what they represented, but now I do. Love these characters and as always enjoyed the story, humorous anecdotes and all.
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Bryant and May take on another peculiar crime but, of course, that is the work of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. This time, a baby is thrown from a window, and the "prints" match those of a Mr. Punch (of Punch and Judy fame) doll. With a touch of locked-room drama (the murder occurred during a party held by the victim's parents and the room is inaccessible from the outside), the cantankerous Bryant and logical May think they'll have the case solved in no time. They're wrong. Fowler works in historical detail of Punch lore (who knew there was any?) and his trademark wry humor for another winner.
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Christopher Fowler's wonderful creations, elderly detectives Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit are called in to investigate the brutal killing of a young baby taken from its cot in a locked room, shaken to death and callously thrown out the window. And on the floor next to the cot lies a life size Mr Punch doll. As ever Bryant dives into the esoteric aspects of the case while May employs solid police work. The book kicks off with some documents detailing the history and function of the PCU complete with personnel files, and all seemingly compiled and perused by shadowy government types bent on closing down the unit.Generally Bryant usually states that he doesn't do multi-tasking so he's severely hampered this time by being distracted by the suspicious death of his biographer. Luckily DS Janice Longbright agrees to help him get to the bottom of it so that he can get to grips with the main investigation. London's theatrical history and our own peculiar fascination with Punch and Judy over the centuries certainly give the old detective plenty of food for thought.Fowler manages to pull off his own brand of alchemy that blends the outright absurd with hard reality but no matter how dark it gets there is always room for humour.My only slight niggle is that opening chapter. It's one of those 'let's lift a weird and exciting chapter from the end of the book and put it right at the start so the reader doesn't get put off by the sedate start.' I love all the slow build up so I don't think it was needed.Prequel chapter aside I still had a good time with Bryant and May again.Review from an advanced readers copy.
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In Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit series, the PCU is the red-headed stepchild of London policing, despite the fact that its case clearance rate is stellar and its budget tiny. The PCU's unpopularity with the police and government establishment is largely due to its chief, Arthur Bryant. Bryant is an ancient, shambling man in soup-stained clothing, who is fascinated by history, the occult and odd phenomena, but lacks any people skills or ability to deal with the real world. After losing track of his car countless times, his solution is to make a habit of parking it in places that make people really angry, since that means when he's searching for it, people will remember having seen it. His way of dealing with a potentially troublesome journalist is to pretend to show her an iron maiden torture device, lock her in it and stroll off, forgetting all about her.Bryant's principal colleague and best friend is John May, who is as dapper as Bryant is disheveled, and spends much of his time smoothing over ruffled feathers after Bryant has mistakenly been allowed to speak to witnesses or superiors. Other members of the PCU staff register on the misfit scale too, just at a much lower level than Bryant.In this latest PCU book, the team has been called in on a ghastly case of the murder of a theater producer's infant son while a party was in full swing downstairs. What puts this crime within the PCU's remit is its circumstances. The boy was throttled and thrown out a sixth-story window without anyone having witnessed any part of the crime. The boy's nursery door was locked from the inside, but there is no evidence of a person having been in the room or left it. The crime scene is turned from puzzling to grotesque and eerie by the Punch puppet on the floor near the crib, and the fact that the impressions on the boy's neck match Punch's wooden hands.While the rest of the PCU interview the party guests (all theater people), construct timelines and analyze alibis, Arthur Bryant immerses himself in the arcana of puppetry, stage props and devices, and the history of the theater and of London buildings. He consults with carnies and Wiccans, and even a Victorian automaton of the seer Madame Blavatsky.Bryant has a few other matters to distract him along the way. He and his housekeeper are being evicted from their longtime residence immediately--actually, it's only "immediately" because Bryant has spent months successfully avoiding paying any attention to the notices and his housekeeper's warnings. On another front, Bryant is dismayed when the appealing young woman who is helping him with his memoirs is killed, and a CD of high inflammatory and top-secret material culled from the memoir goes missing. To round off the distractions, hints begin to appear that someone in government is taking steps to discredit the PCU badly enough to force it to disband.Bryant is convinced that a psychological drama is being played out by the staging of the murder and the use of the Punch puppet. The killer is trying to send a message--but what is the message, and for whom is it intended? Bryant's conviction grows as other guests at the party are murdered; their deaths also bizarre and apparently staged with reference to the Punch and Judy plays. As more time goes by with no solution in sight, Bryant risks it all on one throw of the dice. He will have his murderer by midnight or retire.There is nobody like Christopher Fowler for combining dark, even horrifying, crime with comedy. Within seconds after wincing at a description of a crime scene, you may burst out laughing at one of Bryant's scathing quips.Despite the contemporary setting and the use of modern forensic tools, PCU books harken back to classic mysteries, where a careful analysis of the clues and the suspects' movements--and the ability to spot red herrings and deceit--allow the reader to engage in the detection of the killer alongside the PCU team. Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood also provides the bonus of a great deal of information about the history of Grand Guignol plays and puppetry. I never had any particular interest in those subjects before, but I was fascinated. Now that's the sign of a masterful writer.This is the ninth book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, but if you haven't read the previous books, you'll be fine starting with this one. Bryant & May and the Invisible Code, the next book in the series, will be published in the UK in August, 2012. I'm not sure what the US publication date will be, but I would guess March 2013.
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For the fans of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a new Bryant and May mystery is great news. In The Memory of Blood, the PCU is teetering on the brink again, tolerated but never accepted by its peers in London’s Metropolitan Police Force. And Home Office has its own reservations about the men and women of the PCU.A tragic locked-room death at a party hosted by a theatrical director at his home … and the finding of the puppet character Punch at the scene … are enough to bring the PCU into the investigation. Everyone who is part of the production of Two Murderers is suspected, and one of them is the daughter of a higher up in British government. That makes it even more imperative for the PCU to be leading the charge to find the murderer. Of course, there are more murders, each one involving puppet characters from Punch and Judy. What could be going on?Bryant and May are at their eccentric best. If they aren’t the two oddest heroes in British mysteries, I don’t know who else could be. And author Christopher Fowler brings new readers up to speed in a quick lesson – in the form of a classified Home Office document reprinted as a preface to the book. The document outlines the “findings” of an investigation into the PCU, giving brief critical bios of each of the principal characters. To those who haven’t read any Bryant and May mysteries, it’s hard to relate exactly what makes them so satisfying. They can be light-hearted and tragic, funny and frustratingly complex. They’re superbly written, well plotted, and peopled with amazing characters – so much so that they’re a breeze to read, and funny to boot.
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