A prequel that finds Fowler’s imperishable detective duo (Bryant & May: Wild Chamber, 2017, etc.) already in hot water back in 1969 as they struggle to solve a country-house mystery deep in Kent, far from the resources of their Peculiar Crimes Unit.
When their lively pursuit of sociopathic criminal Burlington Bertie, ne Cedric Powles, gets a little too lively for public safety, Bryant and May’s boss, Roger Trapp, dispatches them on a more routine assignment: to babysit businessman Monty Hatton-Jones over the weekend, keeping him safe until he can give evidence against crooked developer Sir Charles Chamberlain Monday morning. What could possibly go wrong? Only this: Monty's fears for his life don’t prevent him from accepting a weekend invitation from Lady Beatrice Banks-Marion, who’s about to sell her late husband’s estate, Tavistock Hall, to millionaire Donald Burke for repurposing as the Burke Better Business School. Monty has a deal brewing with Burke and doesn’t intend to be talked out of the trip. Instead, he gets Bryant and May invited along with him, where they join Lady Beatrice’s stoner son, Lord Harry; Burke; his wife, Norma; his lawyer, Toby Stafford; nightclub singer Vanessa Harrow; mystery novelist Pamela Claxon; decorator Slade Wilson; the Rev. Trevor Patethric; and diverse members of the Tavistock domestic staff. A local army unit’s war games effectively isolate the place, making departure possible only through death, which obligingly arrives in the shape of five separate attempts on the lives of the assembled company, two of them successful. Suddenly, protecting the life of Monty Hatton-Jones looks like the least of Bryant and May’s problems.
The inspired idea of revisiting the youth of his aged sleuths in swinging England is matched by Fowler’s customary gusto in sweating the details. More fully fleshed-out suspects, clues, red herrings, twists, and honest mystery and detection than in the last three whodunits you read.