Two small children - playing a game called 'Witch-Hunter' - place a curse on a young woman eating lunch in a church courtyard. An hour later the woman is found dead. Then a society photographer is stabbed to death in a nearby park and suddenly a link emerges between the two cases. As the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit investigate, they realise that the case might not just end in disaster - it might also get everyone killed.
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In the churchyard of London's St. Bride's Church, a young woman sits reading until, driven away by the annoyance of two young children, she enters the church's nave. Minutes later, she collapses and dies. The children report that they were playing a game of "witch hunter" and put a curse on her that killed her.
When the autopsy fails to identify a specific cause of death, Arthur Bryant of the Home Office's Peculiar Crimes Unit naturally wants the case. But the Metropolitan Police have jurisdiction and the PCU, being persona non grata in the Home Office, lack the power to take over.
Certainly their enemy-in-chief, the satanic Oscar Kasavian, isn't about to lift a finger to help them. He has vowed to wipe out the PCU and, particularly its beyond-retirement-age leads, Arthur Bryant and John May. Imagine Bryant and May's surprise, then, when Kasavian almost humbly asks them to help him with a problem involving his young wife.
As Bryant and May and the rest of the PCU team begin to investigate, the case takes on ever larger proportions. Government corruption, whistleblowers in private industry, mental illness and its history in London, private clubs, Russian gangsters, codes and ciphers and the supernatural are all thrown into the heady mix. On top of all that, there are disquieting revelations of how the British class system, cronyism and the complete disregard of commercial/government conflicts of interest conspire to ensure that a cabal of venal and ruthless men stay in power in British government.
But this is no grim, deadly serious police procedural. With the PCU, that's just not possible. Arthur Bryant is the absent-minded fellow with his latest meal evidenced down the front of his clothes and his cell phone made unusable by the melted sweets on it. He can't understand why people take exception to his conducting experiments at home and in the office involving things like pig carcasses and explosives. John May is Bryant's opposite: sartorially impeccable, careful to massage egos when necessary and a believer that the simplest answer is usually the right one. Despite their vast differences, Bryant and May make an effective team and, as always, they go right down to the wire in their investigation.
This tenth book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series is notable for its use of London settings in the story. Descriptions of churches, museums, streets and history bring the city alive. This was a particularly satisfying story, one of my absolute favorites in the series. I laughed aloud several times but, as always with this series, I learned a lot and I was touched by the very human members of the team and the people they deal with.
This book can be read as a standalone, but I would suggest that at the very least, you read the previous book, The Memory of Blood, first. There are certain plot issues that come out of that book and it will make The Invisible Code that much more satisfying to know about them. Best of all, though, would be to read the whole series from the beginning, starting with Full Dark House.
One final mystery, though. The book is out in the UK, but as of September, 2012, there is no publication date listed in the US. However, you can get the audiobook from Audible. That's what I did and I can highly recommend it. The narrator, Tim Goodman, is wonderful. His voice for Arthur Bryant is dead-on perfection.
I love the way Tim Goodman brings these characters to life, especially dear old Arthur Bryant. I highly recommend the audio version of the entire series, and I'm so glad that the first one has just been made available.
While the plotting of The Invisible Code may be a bit less meticulous than that of the previous volumes, and the mystery itself ends in a rather hurried denouement that ties up the loose ends of a prior subplot in a clumsy manner, it seems hardly to matter in the end, because the story is, like all its predecessors, still enthralling. Once again, Bryant and May land a blow for truth and justice against the dark heart of London power on behalf of its most vulnerable prey. And from the conclusion, it would appear that the darkest is yet to come...