Book Review: Oranges and Lemons (Bryant & May: Peculiar Crimes Unit #17) by Christopher Fowler

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Pages: 464, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

When a prominent politician is crushed by a fruit van making a delivery, the singular team of Arthur Bryant and John May overcome insurmountable odds to reunite the PCU and solve the case in the brainy new mystery from acclaimed author Christopher Fowler.
On a spring morning in London’s Strand, the Speaker of the House of Commons is accidentally killed by a van unloading oranges and lemons for the annual St. Clement Danes festival. It’s an absurd way to die, but the government is more interested in investigating the Speaker’s state of mind just prior to his accident.
The task is given to the Peculiar Crimes Unit–the only problem being that the unit no longer exists. Its Chief, Raymond Land, is tending his daffodils on the Isle of Wight and senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are out of commission; May is undergoing surgery for a bullet wound and Bryant has been missing for a month. What’s more, the old unit in King’s Cross is being turned into a vegetarian tapas bar.
Against impossible odds, the team is reassembled and once again what should have been a simple case becomes a lunatic farrago involving arson, suicide, magicians, academics and a race to catch a killer with a master plan involving London churches. Joining their team this time is Sidney, a young woman with no previous experience, plenty of attitude–and a surprising secret.

Bryant and May are (mostly) back in Oranges and Lemons, the nineteenth book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, which includes two short story collections. As the book opens, May is recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound, and Bryant is missing. The PCU has been disbanded once again, and the members are struggling to find their places without their lodestar.

Salvation comes in the form of falling fruit. The Speaker of the House of Commons has an unfortunate encounter with a lorry of citrus, and Faraday, the PCU’s bête noire, is forced to reassemble the team to investigate. Joining the band of misfits is a Home Office observer, an intern with superpowers, and a new staff animal that may, or may not, be a cat.

Bryant is also investigating a suspicious fire, as the “Oranges and Lemons” killer escalates their attacks. Each follows the nursery rhyme and takes place at or near its respective cathedral. Is this just random violence, or is there a connection to these seemingly disparate victims?

Fowler, mostly via Bryant, delivers the best zingers since Shakespeare, and Bryant’s love of London shines through in the “tour excerpts” at the beginnings of some of the chapters.

While we do get glimpses into the private lives (such as they are) of the other team members, Bryant is the sun around which all revolve. Initially, he is trying to develop empathy. He soon discovers that empathy is uncomfortable and a hindrance to his normal process.

No one can do what Bryant does, but he may have a protégé in the new intern, Sidney.
There are twists and puzzles aplenty in this adventure, and some delightful surprises which allow for fulfillment of the book’s main theme, continuity. As usual, I gave a great sigh of contentment at the closing, and not just because the last line states, “Bryant and May will return.”

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