Book Review: Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second Staircase

Posted July 1, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Christopher Fowler’s Ten Second StaircaseTen Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
This mystery, police procedural is a hardcover edition was published by Bantam on June 27, 2006 and has 356 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

four-stars

Other books by this author include Full Dark House, The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks,, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant and May Off the Rails, London’s Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant and May, The Memory of Blood, The Invisible Code

Fourth in the Bryant & May mystery series set in London and revolving around two past-retirement-age detectives with an alternative style. Events take off in October.

My Take

You can’t help but fall in love with these two. Bryant is such an eccentric, and Fowler shows it with how the rest of the team copes with him, indulges him. Followers of CSI-oriented programs will go absolutely spare reading about Bryant’s total disregard for evidence. Turns out one of the reasons for the transfer of the PCU from Met oversight to the Home Office is the Met officers ticked off at how Bryant and May ignore the rules.

Fowler makes good use of his characters to point out society’s issues on bureaucracy, rules, morality, politics, manipulating the news, the lack of true education — the focus on the murders in Ten Second Staircase

An underlying conflict in Ten Second Staircase is keeping up with the times, understanding kids these days, Bryant’s lack of connection. This after May lines out some of Bryant’s more “ingenious” ideas and scams. Frying crows in vinaigrette?

Nor does Bryant do well in the empathy department, and it certainly shows when he does the lecture at the students.

“You’ve been spoiled with everything you ever wanted, but you still want more.”

Bryant does make excellent points in this speech, but it’s is very much the wrong audience, and don’t they just show it.

There’s more on May’s guilt, and we finally find out why. It’s connected with the ongoing Leicester Square Vampire case which destroyed May’s life.

Kingsmere is SUCH a snob, and I love how May takes him down a peg. Even better is yet another successful end run around the anti-PCU powers-that-be. Oh, yeah, baby…

Oh, nasty, Fowler does a twist on Robin Hood, and it is not nice. And probably more accurate, lol.

It’s a fascinating combination of mystery, police procedural — well, the lack thereof, lol, age, humor, and the unexpected and understated British stoicism.

The Story

Oops, Bryant and May have been breaking the rules for too long, and those incidents in The Water Room will not help.

If the unit is to stay open, Bryant and May must solve the way overdue Leicester Square Vampire case that destroyed May’s life, hunt down the Highwayman, and evade Kasavian’s sabotaging.

The Characters

Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May have been partners since the start of the unit in 1940. Bryant, a prankster, incorporates a “kind of Counter-Enlightenment mysticism” with the ability to destroy any tech while May is a “rational progressive who sometimes placed feeling over reason” and is probably Bryant’s only link to the outside world. Victor is Bryant’s rusting yellow Mini Cooper. Monica Greenwood is May’s married lover (The Water Room, 2). Elizabeth was John’s daughter; Gwen is John’s sister. Alma Sorrowbridge is Bryant’s former landlady who has now moved into his new place in a former toothbrush factory. Jackie Quinten, a local historian, is the lady with whom Bryant has an understanding.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) was…
…formed back in 1940 to handle unusual crimes and is now located above the Mornington Crescent tube station. Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright dresses like a ’50s film star. Dan Banbury is the brilliant IT/crime scene manager with absolutely zero social skills. Giles Kershaw is the forensics officer and social science liaison whose upper class family has come down so far in the world that Giles actually has to take on a job. Detective Constables Meera Mangeshkar, she’s the stroppy one, and the klutzy Colin Bimsley round out the team. Oswald Finch is the ancient pathologist who intends to retire. April May is John’s agoraphobic but organized granddaughter whom May desperately wants to protect. Through a new program, April is offered a job at the PCU. Crippen is the office cat.

The Haphazards are…
…May’s outside recruits, like the Baker Street Irregulars. Rufus Abu is a young hacker who tips him off about Land’s email. Nalin Saxena, a former member of the Shadwell Posse, reports in on gang alliances. Polly Sharrant runs an SM club.

Raymond Land is the current, unhappy acting head appointed back in 1973. His wife is leaving him and his peers laugh at him. The disgusting Sergeant Jack Renfield at Albany Street is his only friend; both he and his father, Sergeant Leonard Renfield, blame Bryant for their troubles. Stanley Marsden had been the DCS HMCO liaison officer. Constable Liberty DuCaine is helping PCU.

Leslie Faraday, an incompetent nightmare who gets shuffled from department to department after each incident, is the senior Home Office liaison officer under whose aegis the PCU now operates although it has no power over people hired before 1962. Oskar Kasavian is Faraday’s new, vicious assistant determined to take down PCU, and especially Bryant and May.

St. Crispin’s Boys’ School is…
…an exclusive private academy. Nicholas Gosling, Daniel Parfitt, Jezzard, Billings, and Luke Tripp are on the field trip. Other students include Hyde-Brown, Pond, Whitchurch, Ramsden, Armstrong, Ibbertson, Metcalf, and Unsworth. Eliot Mason is a teacher who handles field trips. Brilliant Kingsmere is the students’ most favored teacher who takes on special students. (Alexander Kingsmere, MA, BSc Oxon, was his father.) Dr. Westingham is the headmaster. Gossage is the sports master.

The Roland Plumbe Community Estate is…
…a neighborhood whose kids clash with the students at St. Crispin’s. Lorraine Bonner is the head of the Residents’ Association who works at Middlesex Hospital. Danielle and Sheree are young residents and witnesses. The Saladins are a gang on the estate. Seems that Kingsmere is a volunteer here, giving community classes.

“The professional classes should be made to live here for a while before they start pronouncing on the causes of anti-social behaviour.”

The County Hall Gallery is…
…owned by Calvin Burroughs. Saralla White, “the most hated woman in England”, is a sculptor, Sharinda Van Souten is a political activist through her art, and McZee (the former Josh Ketchley) who “explores the link between fear and power in the torture of political prisoners” have a show at the gallery. Bryant does fall in love with one of McZee’s pieces, lol.

Eleanor White is Saralla’s mother; Patrick, her father. Well, her daughter’s name was really Sarah. Leo Carey was Saralla’s husband, but his life was destroyed because of her. Now he’s Martell’s publicist. Danny Martell is a TV show host in trouble for his image. Marc Morrison is his agent. Channing Gifford is a witness. Madame Briquet has an apartment next to the gym. Garfy, a.k.a., Alexander Garfield Paradine, is related to the Earl of Devonshire. Starting as a comedian, he keeps trying on new roles to revive his career. Anthony Sarne is increasingly drawn to young boys.

The Hard News self-publicizes…
…itself as Great Britain’s first daily magazine, and Janet Ramsey, a.k.a., the Blue Dragon, is its new senior features editor. Roat is the art director. Simon handles the insider’s pop page.

It’s graffiti that GRAF magazine…
…is all about with Julio Stamos an expert on the topic. Lazarus is his Vietnamese potbellied pig.

Some of Bryant’s consultants include…
Maggie Armitage, an old friend of Bryant’s, who is the leader of The Coven of St. James the Elder. Dr. Harold Masters runs the Panic Site as well as the Insomnia Squad. Oliver Golifer owns the Newman Street Picture Library. Dorothy Huxley runs the Greenwich Library thanks to Jebediah’s bequest. Frank is her gloomy, unpaid assistant.

The Leicester Square Vampire case has…
…been ongoing since 1973, and his victims were blamed for their own deaths. Malcolm, the son of an Austrian diplomat, was one of the victims and the catalyst for officials to okay funds. In 1991, Amanda Wakefield became the next victim.

Signal Crime status is awarded crimes that will scare the public. Sharon Letts was a notorious shoplifter. Felix is a cat burglar running discreet small-scale operations.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a creamy-golden parchment-like distressed map of London for a background and is thinly bordered by a black silhouette of a rearing horse and wonky buildings. The author’s name is in a black, thin Gothic at the top with the title in a deep orange and slightly more ornate Gothic font. At the bottom is a busy mélange representing the history of the Highway Man with Westminster representing the politicians in the story. Tucked in is the numbers from that aluminum key, the Highway Man’s key.

I think the title refers to that Ten Second Staircase, a quick trap for the unwary.

four-stars

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