I am learning to love short stories. They can be unsatisfying if done poorly – no real plot, no depth to characters – but when handled well they are a perfect format. Personally, I can get through at least a couple on the bus journey home without the risk of missing my stop. And sometimes a couple of stories by Connie Willis, Andy Knighton or Margaret Atwood, to name a few I’ve enjoyed recently, is just what you need on a crowded bus after a long day at work. And now I have added a new author to my list of fairly foolproof short stories and some new favourite characters in the shape of Bryant & May, stalwarts of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit.
Arthur Bryant and John May are described by their creator, Christopher Fowler, as ‘Golden Age detectives in a modern world’. They are also a brilliantly depicted pair of curmudgeonly old fusspots with a fairly Wodehousian turn of phrase who are only ever, it seems, temporarily stumped by the cases that land on their desks at the PCU. I don’t know if they would thank me for it but I found them quite endearing. In fact, oddly, the combination of their old world methods and the references to modern-day technology like emails and mobile phones makes me think of these stories as a kind of reverse steampunk.
The stories in this collection are cases which hark back to other Bryant & May novels. This means that they do exactly what short stories of this nature are meant to do and tempt you into delving into the longer works – my only issue with this is the usual one. When am I going to find the time!