A woman walks into a police office and announces that she is going to kill a man in a week. When he's dead a week later they have no proof, but know that she killed him somehow. An officer helping with security for a visiting dignitary's wife accidentally tackles one of the undercover security men. A woman is found dead in a snow covered park with her throat cut and no footprints anywhere near the body. These are the sort of cases that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in. Not quite an X-Files type office, they handle crimes that might create a sensational splash, a national scandal or security risk, or are just plain, well...peculiar. The two senior officers are Bryant and May. Bryant is written as a grumpy, curmudgeonly older man with odd bits of London history and esoteric facts tucked into his memory, and he is a technophobe who can't remember how to open his e-mail. May is his partner and more of a dapper ladies man, with a better wardrobe, nicer car, and smoother manners. He is often frustrated with Bryant for withholding information or making him work things out that Bryant already knows.
These short stories are a collection of quirky cases which include the samples I listed above. They range in time period through a couple of decades and generally take place in London, or at least close enough to travel to the scene and back without having to spend the night (although one takes place on a yacht in Turkey while the detectives are on holiday). The personalities of Bryant and May are fleshed out a bit more with each story. We see Bryant trying to sort out two jigsaw puzzles that have been mixed together, and he resorts to snipping off bits of the pieces and hammering them into place. We find May a bit flustered by a group of young college girls and being rather obvious in turning on his charm. The settings are also a mix of possible locations - a warehouse full of automated printing presses, a carnival side show, a trendy restaurant, the swimming pool of a private club, and even a double-decker tour bus.
There are several helpful notes added by the author. I appreciate the foreword in which he discusses his own influences and favorite writers (I made a list of things to look for at the library). There is also a brief introduction to each story, and at the end of the book are brief synopses of the other full-length adventures, including a brief bit of quoted dialogue and some backstory on each book's inspiration. The list of odd books that can be found in Bryant's fictional office are very funny, and the author's comment that it is up to the reader to determine which of the titles are real and which he made up sounds like he is double-daring us to do so.
I enjoyed the collection of stories with its mix of times and locations around London. The relationship between Bryant and May is a bit like the Holmes and Watson dynamic, although both of these characters are detectives. But there is the sense that Bryant has all these odd factoids at his fingertips, and funny sources for information available that hints of the Baker Street Irregulars. May is more a Watson with his attempts at charm with the ladies and his concern for propriety is a little more developed than his partner's. Mystery fans who have not tried any of Fowler's other works should give this collection a try and see if it is to their taste.
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.