November 14th, 2007

Yellow head

Christopher Fowler

Recently I've been enjoying Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May detective novels. I'm a big crime/mystery novel fan, and as I find that this is one of those areas of fiction that American's tend to do best, I was pleased to find an English author who wasn't, as many do, aping the US style. Fowler wonderfully mashes together genuine English themes and ideas, mixing the arcane mythologies of London with an Ealing comedy movie feel. The fantastical elements of the novel's storylines never tip over into the supernatural, but still manage to summon up a very particular eerie London atmosphere, where the past is always pressing on the present and the dead are not gone, but merely out of sight. The malign influences of the streets and landscape of urban London play a big part in the novels, much like they do in the writings of Peter Ackroyd or Iain Sinclair: authors who clearly influence Fowler.

The novels concern the Met's Peculiar Crime's Unit, led by London's longest serving detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May: two elderly men who should have retired years ago, but somehow remain on the force, despite having been policemen since the war. This would stretch credibility in a realistic novel, but in the world of Bryant and May, such things seem more than probable. The stories include a series of murder's by a faceless phantom at the Palace Theatre (during the blitz), and the killing of various vacuous celebrities by a masked highwayman (in the present day). In each case, the strange psychological architecture and history of London, plays a part, influencing, and perhaps even possessing the novel's characters. The novels do vary in quality, but they are all entertainingly readable. I recommend the two best of the series: Full Dark House and Ten Second Staircase.