A slice of Poe's life in nuanced thriller

Crime fiction

June 25, 2006|By SARAH WEINMAN | SARAH WEINMAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Pale Blue Eye

Louis Bayard

Ten Second Staircase

Christopher Fowler

Bantam / 356 pages / $24

Books that focus on an impossible crime have fallen out of favor in the mystery genre, but Christopher Fowler does a marvelous job rescuing the old art form - concocting a fiendish plot that tests readers' minds and entertains them thoroughly while developing the repartee between his two delightful protagonists, the octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May.

The crime at the heart of Ten Second Staircase is suitably shocking, and tailor-made for the Peculiar Crimes Unit: A visual artist is murdered and displayed as part of her own project, and there are few leads and little evidence. But a teenage witness reports a mysterious Highwayman, overly tall and dressed in black, near the crime scene. Is it truth or trick?

The murders increase and Bryant and May investigate twist upon turn while hoping to avoid the bureaucratic wrath of the Metropolitan police, who have finally figured out how to shut down the one unit that doesn't fit in with their mandate. As in previous installments (most recently Seventy-Seven Clocks), the cantankerous Bryant and even-tempered May demonstrate why they are two of the greatest creations in recent crime fiction.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction monthly for The Sun. Visit her at www.sarahweinman.com.

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