Excerpt from Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ten Second Staircase

Bryant & May Mysteries

By Christopher Fowler

Ten Second Staircase
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2006,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2007,
    496 pages.

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That was in 1973. I am still here, still awaiting a transfer.

By the time I joined, the Peculiar Crimes Unit had become very peculiar indeed. It could be likened to a doctors' surgery that had abandoned traditional pharmaceutical treatments for alternative therapies. Over time, these therapies have become more extreme; we have reached a point when it seems quite normal for Mr Bryant to ignore empirical data in favour of hiring a clairvoyant in the search for a missing person. Mr May is not much better; his investigation into pagan elementals a few months ago did result in the capture of a wanted criminal, but he still destroyed a section of the Regent Canal in the process, and the case appears to have involved a mass breakout of illegal immigrants from King's Cross, whom both he and his partner aided and abetted.

The bizarre behaviour of these geriatric detectives seems to infect those working around them, so that I am made to seem the 'odd man out.' I am openly ridiculed and humiliated. Mr Bryant's experiments, conducted without any safety precautions, are both questionable and dangerous. My instructions are disobeyed, my reputation has been irreversibly damaged, and my office wallpaper has been ruined.

Both Mr Bryant and Mr May are beyond statutory retirement age and show no inclination to leave. No-one seems to know quite how old they are, as their files were apparently lost in the fire that destroyed their old offices, but I am reliably informed that Mr Bryant is three years older than his counterpart. Mr May is certainly the more amenable of the pair, possessing a more youthful outlook. He is at least partially familiar with technological advances in the field of crime detection, but Mr Bryant is quite impossible to deal with. In the last eighteen months he has destroyed or lost 17 mobile phones and several laptop computers. How he managed to reprogram the unit's main police transmitter frequency so that it could receive only selections from The Pirates of Penzance is a mystery we have yet to solve.

Speaking frankly, he is offensive, awkward, argumentative, and unhygienic. He flatly refuses to follow procedural guidelines, and constantly leaves the unit open to legal prosecution. He insists on employing the services of nonprofessionals, including disgraced experts, discredited psychics, registered felons, unstable extremists, tree-huggers, witches, children, itinerants, actors, practitioners of quasi-religions, and various 'creative' types.

Mr Bryant's informants include those on the wrong side of the law, outpatients, migrants, fringe dwellers not recognised as reliable witnesses in a British court of law, and, on at least one occasion, a convicted murderer. He refuses to document his investigations in accordance with official guidelines; his office is little more than a rubbish dump; his personal habits are disgusting and, I suspect, illegal. He smokes and drinks on duty, abuses official property, requisitions police vehicles for personal use, falsifies reports, and is said to have on one occasion borrowed clothes awaiting DNA tests from the Evidence Room in order to attend a fancy dress party. He has an infested Tibetan human skull on his desk, and has been known to keep animal parts in the unit's refrigerator for experiments.

Unfortunately, these transgressions cannot be dealt with through the usual disciplinary channels because, technically speaking, the unit is no longer part of the Metropolitan Police, and now falls under your jurisdiction. However, I am informed (by Mr Bryant himself) that you have no power over staff employed before the revised Official Security Act of 1962.

My work at the unit is personally humiliating. Whenever I attempt to exert some kind of control over him, Mr Bryant plays practical jokes on me. He once convinced me that my wife had taken a French lover, an act which had a disastrous effect on my marriage. Heaven knows, I like a joke as much as the next man, but in this case the next man happened to be my counterpart at the Serete, and did not take kindly to being accused of adultery. In short, Mr Bryant acts as if the serious business of solving crime is some kind of children's game. Lately I have begun to wonder if he has developed some form of senility. Mr May frequently takes his partner's side against me. I know they are laughing behind my back. They practise nepotism, favouritism, and, in Mr Bryant's case, occasional witchcraft. The mother of their detective sergeant was formerly in their employ, and now it appears that Mr May's granddaughter, a girl with a history of psychological problems, is to join the unit. Mr Bryant and Mr May are not just representatives of the law; they are old people, and it is time for them to move on.

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.

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