Page Turner: Mayhem and mystery – I'll have a half

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The Independent Online

It's one of the rare hot, sunny days of the summer and I'm off on a literary pub crawl to celebrate Christopher Fowler's new Bryant & May crime novel, The Victoria Vanishes (Doubleday £14.99). All the places we're going to visit form part of Arthur Bryant's investigation into a series of murders of lonely female drinkers in London pubs. (I'm feeling creeped out already.)

As usual, the peculiar crimes unit's secret weapon is an unparalleled knowledge of London arcana. Our first port of call, The Old Mitre in Ely Court, EC1, is tucked in an alleyway off Hatton Garden. One odd feature of the pub is a cherry tree in a glass case, which marked the boundary of the Bishop's garden. "In London, 65 pubs a year are disappearing – nationally it's 400," says Chris.

The first murder takes place in the Seven Stars, just off Lincoln's Inn Fields, but I already know that one so instead we head off to the Tipperary in Fleet Street, which claims to be the oldest Irish pub in London and the first to sell Guinness. Mooney's of Dublin, who bought the 17th-century pub on the site which survived the Great Fire, built the present 19th-century structure, with its charming four-leaf clover mosaic floor.

We move on swiftly to the Old Bell Tavern, built in the 1670s for the workmen who were rebuilding St Bride's under Christopher Wren. The post-work drinking crowd is beginning to join the shirkers and the tourists, so after our halves of Speckled Hen we go to another quiet joint, the Viaduct Tavern, where Chris has a special treat in store. "Ask to see our underground cells!" invites a chalk board, so we follow a barman down into the cellar. We are just across the road from the site of the old Newgate prison, but these cells form part of the old Giltspur Compter, a debtors' prison. However, I can hardly believe that the rusting iron cages on display were really used to contain prisoners. The barman told us that paranormal investigators frequently ask to spend the night there with their equipment. I'm very happy to make it to the warm upper air once again.

One pub we won't be visiting, sadly, is the eponymous Victoria Cross, in which one of the victims is accosted. Luckily, Arthur Bryant himself is in the vicinity at the time, but next morning all traces of the pub have simply disappeared. Perhaps, say his colleagues, poor old Arthur really is losing his marbles. Chris's ingenious solution is worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself. Cheers!

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