Ten Second Staircase—Christopher Fowler

"A populated gallery, a noisy, messy murder that nobody sees or hears, a killer who appears and vanishes at will, an artist killed by her own work, and an animated poem in riding boots and a tricorn hat who comes galloping through a building before leaving a calling card - doesn't it sound to you like someone's been reading old detective stories?" (92)

This is the second Peculiar Crimes Unit book that I have read. (The first was The Victoria Vanishes.) The first one was a bit difficult to get into; I'm not sure what it was about it, but it didn't particularly intrigue me. As I got into the second third of the book, though, it drew me in. At least enough to compel me to buy another Peculiar Crimes Unit book when I saw it on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books.

In this my second book with the PCU, I laughed out loud often, from the first chapter of the book. I marked several quotes as particularly hilarious from that point on and didn't stop until I reached the end.

In this episode with the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a series of two-bit celebrities (a controversial artist, a reality television star, a magazine editor) are murdered. At the scene of the first murder - that of the artist in her own installation piece - the twelve-year-old eyewitness claims to have seen a cape-clad highwayman atop a black stallion. As they get closer to catching the killer, Bryant and May must also sort out a cold-case which split up their partnership once before, all while trying to keep their unit from being shut down by the Home Office.

I find there might be a comparison to be made for Bryant and May as a modern-day (mostly) Holmes and Watson, respectively. Bryant is the brilliant fount of obscure knowledge with no family and an inability to sustain or understand social norms. In fact, I found some of the phrasing and word choice of Bryant particularly reminiscent of Holmes. May is the more socially adept one of the pair, often having to smooth things over after Bryant has been through.

Fowler writes with wit and creates nuanced characters. His books are quite a joy to read, once you are initially able to connect to the people that he has conjured

One thing that I did find irritating was that Fowler will sometimes latch onto a particular, rather obscure adjective, and use it several times over. Now, for regular, everyday adjectives that's not a problem. But if you are going to use words that are not commonplace, then use them sparingly, I say. Especially don't use them twice within fifty pages.

Overall a good book, and certainly worth the $2.00 I paid for it. Thank you once again, Half Price Books!

Some other favourite quotes:

  • After having received vague, noncommittal answers from a security guard at the art gallery, Bryant asks him: "Is there something wrong with you that requires all answers to be preceded by a conditional clause?"
  • "Madame Briquet divides her time between here and her villa in Menton," explained the caretaker. "She wouldn't like me letting strange men into her flat."
    "We're not strange," said Kershaw. "We're from the Peculiar Crimes Unit."
  • One of the best exchanges:
    (Frank, a librarian, in answer to a question from Bryant) "He can't come round for a few days because he was cat-sitting for a sick aunt, but her Persian swallowed a hair ball and coughed itself to death, so he had to find an identical replacement, and the trouble is that the new one has one green eye and one yellow, so he's waiting to hear back from the vet about whether they can put a contact lens in."
    (Bryant) "I'm sorry, Frank; you seem to be speaking some alien language designed for people who care about your problems. Back to me. Where is Dorothy?"

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