Christopher Fowler's droll and original "White Corridor" brings back the London-based Peculiar Crimes Unit, "a highly unorthodox specialist police division" founded by the now elderly senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May. Bryant, in particular, has attracted a great deal of attention (mostly negative) because of his reliance on psychics, necromancers, cryptozoologists, and alternative therapists to help him solve "impossible" crimes. The PCU tackles sensitive cases using out-of-the-box thinking; they work outside of the many constraints that shackle the regular members of the Metropolitan Police Force. Unfortunately, Bryant and May have made some powerful enemies, including Oskar Kasavian, the vindictive supervisor in charge of Internal Security. Kasavian is plotting to get rid of the PCU once and for all.
Acting Unit Chief Raymond Land decides to declare a compulsory one week furlough for the PCU, ostensibly to upgrade the unit's computer system and to better organize its operations. In addition, the PCU's irascible pathologist, Oswald Finch, is about to retire; the thought of no longer hanging around his beloved mortuary throws Finch into a panic. He enjoys working with corpses; he has even begun to resemble them. Finch's probable successor, the Eton-educated Giles Kershaw, is looking forward to stepping into his mentor's shoes, but it turns out that Kershaw's appointment may not be a sure thing.
During this time of transition, Bryant drags May off to a convention of psychics, leaving the unit under the leadership of the conscientious Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright. When Bryant and May get caught in a blizzard, they are stranded somewhere in the Dartmoor countryside. They are freezing and anxious, since the rescue services will not be able to reach them until the weather clears. Meanwhile, DS Longbright and her colleagues are called upon not only to solve a sensitive murder case, but also to man the barricades when a royal visitor is invited to Mornington Crescent. Nor do Bryant and May get a well-deserved break from crime-solving. Even during a violent snowstorm, they end up trailing a mysterious killer with shadowy motives.
"White Corridor" is a sharply written, literate, and lively mystery. Fowler is a magnificent descriptive writer and his dialogue is brisk and dryly humorous. The story lines are complex and challenging enough to provide perfect fodder for the PCU. All of the characters are beautifully depicted: Bryant is one of the most amusing and unusual protagonists in contemporary British mysteries. He dresses in ridiculously out-of-date clothes, is on a first-name basis with a white witch, cultivates a sickly marijuana plant, plays sadistic practical jokes on his peers, disdains modern technology, and bickers endlessly with his frustrated but devoted housekeeper, Alma Sorrowbridge. However, he is also a brilliant detective, and in some ways, his mind works every bit as effectively as the most high-tech computer. May complements Bryant perfectly; although John is the more practical and more technologically proficient of the two, he has great respect for Arthur's intelligence and experience. Working together, the two men accomplish much more than they could separately.
The book succeeds for another reason. Instead of focusing exclusively on Bryant and May, the more junior members of the PCU finally take center stage. It is entertaining to observe them putting together clues on their own and proudly showing that they have profited from the careful training that they received at the feet of the masters. "White Corridor" ends on a bizarre note, but if the crimes featured in Fowler's books weren't outlandish, there would be no need for these highly imaginative and creative detectives.