It’s a crime tailor-made for the Peculiar Crimes Unit: a controversial artist is murdered and displayed as part of her own outrageous installation. No suspects, no motive, no evidence–it’s business as usual for the Unit’s cantankerous founding partners, Arthur Bryant and John May. But this time they have an eyewitness. According to twelve-year-old Luke Tripp, the killer was a cape-clad highwayman atop a black stallion.
As implausible as the boy’s story sounds, Bryant and May take it seriously when “The Highwayman” is spotted again, striking a dramatic pose at the scene of his next outlandish murder. Whatever the killer’s real identity, he seems intent on killing off a string of minor celebrities while becoming one himself.
As the tabloids look to make a quick bundle on “Highwayman Fever,” Bryant and May, along with the newest member of the Unit, May’s agoraphobic granddaughter, April, find themselves sorting out a case involving an unlikely combination of artistic rivalries, sleazy sex affairs, the Knights Templars, and street gang feuds. To do it, they’re going to have to use every orthodox–and unorthodox–means at their disposal, including myth, witchcraft, and the psychogeographic history of the city’s “monsters,” past and present.
And if one unsolvable crime weren’t enough, this case has disturbing links to a decades-old killing spree that nearly destroyed the partnership of Bryant and May once before…and may again. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is one murder away from being closed down for good–and that murder could be their own.
After the somewhat disappointing Seventy-seven Clocks (2005), British author Fowler smoothly blends humor, deduction and social commentary in his fourth oddball whodunit to pay homage to John Dickson Carr and other golden age masters of the impossible crime story. Besides matching a bizarre series of crimes with a logical and plausible fair-play solution, the novel features a high level of psychological complexity, especially in its detectives, the elderly eccentrics Arthur Bryant (who clearly channels Carr's brilliant curmudgeon, Sir Henry Merrivale) and John May. With the pair's beloved Peculiar Crimes Unit on the brink of extinction, Bryant and May must both resolve a cold case featuring the Leicester Square Vampire, whose victims included May's own daughter, and identify the Highwayman, who specializes in locked-room murders of hated celebrities. Far superior to the author's best earlier work, this fine effort places Fowler in the first rank of contemporary mystery writers and whets the appetite for the next Bryant and May case.