Excerpt of Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
(Page 2 of 4)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
I know that the PCU has lately had some success in solving crimes that have come
to the attention of the general public. I am also aware that its most senior
detectives are highly respected and can offer an enormous amount of experience
between them, but their manner is disruptive and their behaviour--certainly in
terms of efficient, modern crime management--is unorthodox, and damaging to the
image of the national policing network.
Their long-running investigation into the murders of young women committed by
the so-called Leicester Square Vampire, last sighted in 1975, brought the PCU
into disrepute. Their working practises proved questionable, and the case
remains unsolved to this day. The unit's brief is admittedly unusual; their
cases rarely provide the opportunity to follow direct leads and name suspects,
but their methodology is regarded as altogether too vague, intellectual,
socialist, and downright arty by those who work on the 'coal face' of crime, an
image the detectives have sought to foster rather than disabuse.
Heaven knows I am no intellectual, but even I can tell that these gentlemen
would be better employed as academics than as police officers. Mr May once told
me that he could be loosely termed a follower of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the
rational progressive who sometimes placed feeling over reason, but Mr Bryant's
philosophical attitude towards criminal investigation is more complex and
troubling; although enlightened and well-read, a 'cold fish' who rarely
empathises with victims of crime, he is quite prepared to resort to the kind of
Counter-Enlightenment mysticism that allows some rationalists to believe in ley
lines and crystal healing when it suits them. Simply stated, Mr Bryant and Mr
May are completely out of touch with the problems of today's youth. Elderly
people rarely commit crimes; how can Mr Bryant and Mr May possibly hope to
understand what is happening on the streets of London anymore?
The general public must be able to feel that their lives are in safe hands. As
you know, not long ago Mr Bryant accidentally blew up his own unit. Subsequently
he managed to get himself shut in a sewer, and nearly died. His partner has had
one heart attack, and flagrantly defies doctor's orders to lead a less stressful
working life. Nor does Mr May help our image by conducting a very public affair
with a married woman. The pair keep irregular hours, behave and dress oddly, and
encourage everyone else in their employ to do the same. Detective Sergeant
Janice Longbright seems to model herself on Diana Dors, the fifties Rank
starlet, and comes to work in the most extraordinarily provocative outfits. I
sometimes wonder if we're running a police unit or an escort agency.
Neither Mr Bryant nor Mr May believes in traditional hierarchy. They speak to
their colleagues as equals, and frequently ask advice from the most
inexperienced members of staff. Obviously, this will not do. Mr Bryant took his
exams a very long time ago, and is unwilling to entertain the idea of modern
police procedure. He's always touching things; it's only luck that prevents half
his cases from being thrown out of court due to cross-contamination of evidence.
The criminal world has altered drastically since his time. Even constables are
required to pass exams in criminal law, traffic law, and general police duties,
but Mr Bryant has somehow been granted immunity from evaluation tests. He has
repeatedly refused to take his Objective Structured Performance Related
Examination, and deliberately falsifies results from his continuous appraisals.
Of course, the national police force now operates under a regime of openness and
transparency, but Mr Bryant prefers to keep his superiors in the dark because,
he says, 'it is simpler for them to understand nothing.'
As you know, my own background is in forensic sciences. When I sought promotion
to a more senior decision-making role, I was brought into this unit as Acting
Temporary Head. As the title implies, I did not expect to remain in the position
for more than three months.
Excerpted from Ten Second Staircase by
Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2006 by Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by
permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No
part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in
writing from the publisher.