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by Christopher Fowler
Bantam, March 2006
512 pages
ISBN: 0553587161

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Arthur Bryant and John May have been partners for 50 years. Even though they are well beyond their sell-by date, they are still members of London's Peculiar Crime Unit. Bryant sometimes acts as a tour guide in London. He remembers the days when shipping still came up the Thames to the Pool of London and when the docks in the East End were used for more than posh flats for yuppies.

An old colleague comes to them. He has found his sister Ruth Singh seated in a chair in her basement, dressed to go out, and dead. It is doubly suspicious in that Anna is a recluse and rarely goes out. Her brother usually goes to the market for her and brings the items to her. When Bryant investigates, he finds her mouth is full of brackish water. But the coroner's verdict is death from unknown causes.

A young couple buys the house out from under the nose of a property developer. The woman had gone to school with one of the neighbors and is ready to settle down. Her partner is not so happy with the arrangement, and soon takes off on a belated gap year trip around the world.

Meanwhile, the detectives are following a pair of men who seem to be searching for the hidden entrances to the famed rivers of London, most of which have been forced underground. What relationship do the rivers have to the crimes, the murders which have taken lives by using the ancients four elements?

Bryant and May finally solve the murder of Ruth Singh and three others but not before we are treated to asides that are more fascinating than the solution to the crimes. We are treated to a history of the underground rivers of London, 1950s London, wartime London and the problems of the capital during the present day, in a style reminiscent of Peter Dickinson as enacted, at times, by the Marx Brothers.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, April 2006

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