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Fowler, Christopher - 'The Victoria Vanishes'
Paperback: 368 pages (July 2009) Publisher: Bantam Books ISBN: 055381799X

Arthur Bryant is staggering home after enjoying a boozy night in a London pub with his other colleagues from the Peculiar Crimes Unit. The elderly detective reaches a particular street corner when he notices a middle-aged lady equally befuddled, hesitatingly deciding to enter a pub named "The Victoria Cross", he sees her being welcomed by the barman before he passes on his way. The following day he is astonished to hear that the body of the lady from the previous evening, has been found in the street but what is most striking of all is that the pub has disappeared. Finally after a lot of research he discovers details of the Pub in an old directory but it was apparently demolished in 1953.

He fears for his sanity and memory particularly as he recently mislaid an urn contained the ashes of a recently cremated former colleague. In an effort to recover things he starts to consult a hypnotist to improve his memory. After, one session with her he can't remember any more details of the night of the murder but what he does remember is to whom he lent his electric drill in 1986.

Bryant and his colleague John May, Senior Detectives for the Peculiar Crimes Unit together with their other colleagues quickly discover that other middle-aged ladies are being bumped off in City of London pubs and it looks like a serial killer is at work. Bryant and May have to go on a gigantic pub crawl in order to obtain evidence of course and against their better instincts. Eventually, they discover who the murderer is and the book reaches an exciting conclusion.

There is a side plot regarding the efforts of Scotland Yard to close down the Peculiar Crimes Unit which gathers momentum throughout the story.

The author describes the history of the pubs of the City of London in great detail and has even listed them in a glossary in the back of the book and it is quite fascinating and of particular interest to readers who either live in or near London or are likely to visit it.

The book is not, however, for reading on public transport as its wry humour may cause embarrassment in front of total strangers as you frequently start laughing out loud at the stereo-typical references to the aged detectives who are the main characters. There are similarities between the main plot device of the missing pub and the 1945 book THE MOVING TOY SHOP by Edmund Crispin, but that novel was set in a 1938 Oxford which is quite removed from this current novel. It is a very charming novel and I enjoyed it very much and I must look out future stories.

Read another review of THE VICTORIA VANISHES.

Terry Halligan, England
December 2009

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 14/12/2009 16:24