He would no doubt hate to be called it, but Christopher Fowler is something of a British national treasure. Not content with being one of this country’s most idiosyncratic and imaginative writers of horror fiction, he brought his particular skills to bear on what (with this 10th book) has become a crime fiction series quite unlike anything else being produced in the UK. What is particularly cherishable about the Bryant & May series is its ability to function on a variety of levels: as a straightforward exploration of detective story tropes (with a duo of protagonists who are memorable in their eccentricity), as a constantly rejuvenated paen of praise to the city of London (few writers have such an acute sense of place as Fowler); as a delicious parody of the whole crime fiction form (but with sufficient seriousness to keep ridicule at bay) and – perhaps most significantly — as a series of narratives that exert an Ancient Mariner-like grip on the reader. All of these qualities are to be found in abundance in Bryant & May and the Invisible Code in which the duo are thrown into an investigation of the spouse of one of their nemeses (a woman who is convinced she is the victim of witchcraft.) At the same time, two children are playing a game called ‘Witch-Hunter’ – but are their games possessed of a sinister (and even lethal) significance?

As before in these quirky narratives, the reader is taken on a fascinating (and often bizarre) journey which is notably difficult to read in short measures – the insidious Mr Fowler demands our total attention. Just remember that if you unwisely start reading the book two stops before your destination…

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