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What makes something peculiar? It is a weird term that is probably taken too far on most occasions. A person who is jumping up and down whilst wearing the Tricolore on their head and humming the Brazilian national anthem is beyond peculiar in my opinion. This person is dangerous, insane and possibly foreign : ) Peculiar should be something far subtler; perhaps the man on the underground who squeezes an entire tube of moisturiser into his hands then rubs until it has all gone. Perhaps the woman you see in the supermarket that seemingly steps over all the cracks in the floor and doffs an imaginary cap to magpies. These people may be just as dangerous as crazy flag wearing madman, but they sit under the radar of the less observant person. Crimes committed by this group of people perhaps need a more specialist police unit?
Bryant and May are too aged Detectives who have been the beating heart of the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London since just after WW2. Now well past the formal days of retirement they are high on the list of people to get rid of in a recent government campaign to save money. However, their unique ability to solve the more subtle and complex crimes means they still have their uses. They come up against one of their biggest cases yet when minor celebrities start to be murdered by what appears to be a highwayman. Can the duo hide their eccentric working style whilst trying to catch a mysterious murderer?
'Ten-Second Staircase' is one of the strangest books that I have read in a while due to the fusion of styles that author Christopher Fowler includes in the book; part mystery, part fantasy, part intellectual murmuring. Combining these three elements is always going to be a tall order and I think that 'Staircase' shows what happens when an author loses the way. On a positive note the book overall is good and this is due to the central mystery itself. A series of murders occur in a way that is seemingly impossible. The locked room nature of the book makes it comparable to Agatha Christie, or many of the Jonathon Creek TV episodes. These are murders that on the face seem impossible, but with logical and creative thinking they may be more mundane than first thought - or are they?
The second element of the supernatural is teased throughout the book with Fowler making Detective Bryant's interest in the occult as a way to solve crime. However, despite the mumbo jumbo these supernatural elements do not hold up to much and are merely quirks of the character. As this is the only book I have read in the series I may find that the other books have paranormal elements, but this one did not. The mention of the supernatural seems like a complete red herring that fills the book out with unnecessary bumf.
This overloading of the book continues with the intellectual nature of the characters. Bryant in particular is prone to go off on tangents or rants that can fill paragraphs about something that is nothing to do with the plot. These monologues felt very out of place to me and read more like the author getting his point of view across rather than anything to do with the actual plot. Many pages of the book are spent with people walking and talking to one place to another and not on actually moving things along. Once you actually get to the point of interest the book really picks up, but it is a shame that the journey is so slow in getting there.
'Ten-Second Staircase' is a book that fluctuates greatly from really good to boring. When the murders are happening and the characters are investigating it is a brilliant old fashioned crime thriller that uses intellect over crass imagery. However, it appears that at times Fowler lets the intelligence overcome the story and you end up with a very slow book that takes too many flights of fancy. A great 300 page mystery is stretched 60 or more pages too far by overanalyses of too many minor characters and paragraphs of rants that sometimes feel like the private fixation of the author. Despite these heavy misgivings I did enjoy the book as the characters of Bryant and May were good and the mystery an intriguingly puzzling one. This is perhaps a crime novel best suited for people who like a slower pace read, or more traditional fiction.
Author: Christopher Fowler
Price: amazon uk - £5.99
play.com - £5.99