This is the first in the series of the Bryant and May detective stories. I have already written about the second, The Water Room, which I received through the Transworld Book Challenge.
The story opens with an explosion at the offices of the Peculiar Crimes Squad, the small branch of the Metropolitan Police where Arthur Bryant and John May work. It seems that Bryant has been killed in the blast. John May, his friend of sixty years, is heartbroken. His investigation of the explosion takes him back to the Second World War and the Blitz, where he first met Arthur Bryant.
Images etched themselves in John May's mind and remained there throughout his life: a bus standing on its end, a warden hugging a silent, terrified child, a bright blue hat at the edge of a blood-spilled crater. One night, audiences emerged from Faust at Sadler's Wells to find the sky on fire. If London was the centre of the world, the world was burning. It was a violent place in which to discover a purpose. It was a good place to forge a friendship.
May feels that the explanation for the crime lies with a different one, one which they investigated during the War. The murder of a dancer as she rehearsed in a theatre was their first case together. We follow this case, in flashback, alongside May's investigation in the present.
I loved this book just as much as I loved The Water Room. Christopher Fowler makes London into a mythic, mystical place and the novel is peopled with eccentrics and grotesques. At the same time it is very fixed in reality, the reality that's just slightly under the surface of the conventional one most of us inhabit.