Wild Chamber

Written by Christopher Fowler

Review written by Bob Cartwright

Wild Chamber
RRP: £16.99
Released: March 23 2017

Wild Chamber is the fifteenth adventure of Bryant and May, probably the most popular detective duo since the passing of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe.

The first book in the series Full Dark House came out in 2003 and over the years this award-winning and critically acclaimed series has become a treasure within the British crime fiction community.

Wild Chamber refers to the many parks in central London and more specifically to those in the classic Squares built initially to house London’s aristocrats and oligarchs. These green spaces provide the gentry with healthy walks and are located well away from the slums and their less salubrious population. These parks that pepper the city come under the scrutiny of ‘persons’ who wish to commercially exploit them; thus providing the backdrop for Fowler’s latest exploration of London-life and its culture.

The novel opens with members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit pursuing a miscreant through central London; a chase which closes several busy arterial roads. A lorry is consequently diverted into a street where it is confronted by a low bridge. The driver brakes and a car swerves, careering into a traffic control box, scattering glass and other debris. One shard penetrates the eye and brain of a young child walking with his nanny. The child is rushed to hospital, with life threatening injuries.

Unsurprisingly the parents, financial go-getting father and equally successful mother, are devastated at the loss of their only child. Matters take a turn for the worse when the father’s job is under threat after he is found to have indulged in ‘financial irregularities’.  The marriage crashes. He loses his home, and has to resort to the capital’s parks for "safe" sleeping places. He is also fearful for his life, having gotten badly into debt to Chinese loan sharks. His wife, meanwhile, decamps to an apartment in one of West London’s leafier Squares.  It is in that Square that she found murdered early one morning. 

The Peculiar Crimes Unit sends in Bryant and May to investigate - in the hopes to allay the population’s fears about the security of London’s parks and green spaces. There are disingenuous motives behind the investigation; namely the hope that our detective duo fail to uncover who is behind the crimes, thus removing any public opposition to the sell-off of these public parks. It could also result in the disbanding of the Peculiar Crimes Unit - i.e. hitting two birds with one stone.

More murders follow so the nefarious plan seems to be working, but the guile of our Detectives Bryant and May should never be underestimated.

John May deploys more traditional police procedures to uncover the murderer and the motive(s) for the crimes; while sidekick Arthur Bryant pursues more esoteric or unconventional methods - searching out information and inspiration from London’s more colourful, non-conformist communities.  Will either succeed before the men in grey suits achieve their evil plans? 

I have to say that reaching the end of a Bryant and May book raises the fear that it will be the last in this hugely rewarding detective series. Both detectives are well past the age when all our other police heroes have been pensioned off. Though you’ll have to read Wild Chamber to see if our elderly duo will survive the case, and ride again into their sixteenth adventure.

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