09 February 2011

shelved // bryant & may off the rails

let me preface this book review with a few facts: i love the london underground. disproportionately so. and i love british mysteries (my favorite undergrad class as an english major was british detective fiction - best.class.ever).

so, when christopher fowler's newest book in the peculiar crimes unit mystery series came out, and i saw that the majority of the action took place in and around the london underground, i was a wee bit giddy, to say the least. and last week's snow and ice spectacular provided the perfect cozy atmosphere for heading underground.

bryant & may off the rails is the eighth in fowler's series and features veteran partners arthur bryant and john may. the duo's modes and mindsets for solving crimes are completely contrary: may thrives on technology, facts, and forensics, while bryant embraces unorthodox avenues of investigation, including consulting witches, studying magic tricks, and researching ancient societies. like most odd couples, they just click.

the mystery revolves around king's cross underground station, an escaped murderer (the elusive mr. fox), and a group of flatmates, all of whom attend university college london. several accidents (or are they murders?) begin to take place under the streets of bustling north london. did the same person push a single mother down the escalators and stab a metal skewer through an ex-junkie's neck? who's hiding something about the disappearance of one of the ucl students? all is satisfyingly solved by the eccentric detectives of the peculiar crimes unit.

i fell hard for this book and devoured it in a few short sittings for two reasons (besides the fact that i'm a fan of the series and the genre): a) the copious references to the myths and history of the london underground and b) the north london location.

every time i travel to london, i make a conscious decision to alight at new tube stations, look around, and take a picture (if i'm feeling brave - it is london and there are pretty strict anti-terrorist photography laws). every aspect of the london underground fascinates me: the history, the art, the social implications, the traffic flow... i'm really nerding out here - please don't judge. my favorite tourist stop in london is the london transport museum in covent garden and my favorite pastime is just riding the tube and people watching. so much love for the rails.

london transport museum in covent garden

thanks to this book, i have a new activity planned for my next trip: tube challenges. the book glosses over what sound like pretty rad challenges involving the underground, including visiting tube stops in alphabetical order from a-w (there are no x, y, or z stations), the circle line bottle challenge, and visiting all 270 stations. heaven. if you're a complete underground fanatic like me, you might enjoy this chap's plan to set a new world record.

okay, time to zip it on the underground. now let's talk about the locale, shall we? my absolute favorite area of london is north: islington, camden, marylebone, regent's park. and on and on and on. i love the houses, i love the vibe, i love the scenery. i just love it. and the last time i went across the pond i just happened to stay in the vicinity of university college london. in fact, several of the street names thrown about in the book are the streets i wandered: euston, grower, tottenham court road (my absolute favorite street name ever).

camden row houses. pretty much my dream street.

at one point, the characters were standing at the corner of grower street and torrington place, which just happens to be where i turned everyday on my way to the goodge street station. there's nothing quite like the strange, nerdy thrill of knowing exactly where a character is in the world, geographically speaking.

i'm easily pleased, if you can't tell.

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