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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 368 pages
    Jan 2007, 496 pages

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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.

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