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Bryant & May

ENGLAND’S FINEST . . . Between the covers

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For newcomers to the sublime world of Arthur Bryant and John May, the new collection of short stories written by their biographer, Christopher Fowler, contains a handy pull-out-and-keep guide to the personnel doings of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. OK, I lie – don’t try and pull it out because it will wreck a beautiful book, but the other bits are true.

Bryant & May are both impossibly old, and so this gives Fowler the licence to set their investigations anywhere between the Blitz and Brexit. These stories gleefully span the years, and established B&M hands are rewarded with the usual mix of arcane cultural references, one-liner gags, London psychogeography and stunning investigative insights from Arthur. Cosy entertainment? Not a bit of it. Fowler leavens the fun with a sense of melancholy which provides a haunting echo to the laughter.

9780857525697.jpg-nggid047297-ngg0dyn-292x0-00f0w010c010r110f110r010t010Leaving aside the pen pictures, introductions and postscripts, there are twelve stories. They are, for the most part, enjoyably formulaic in a Sherlockian way in that something inexplicable happens, May furrows his brow and Arthur comes up with a dazzling solution. Think of a dozen elegant variations of The Red Headed League, but with one or two being much darker in tone. Bryant & May and the Antichrist, for example, is a sombre tale of an elderly woman driven to suicide by the greed of a religious charlatan, while Bryant & May and the Invisible Woman reflects on the devastating effects of clinical depression. The stories are, of course set in London, apart from the delightfully improbable one where Arthur and John solve a murder within the blood-soaked walls of Bran Castle, once the des-res of Vlad Dracul III. Bryant & May and the Consul’s Son revisits Fowler’s fascination with the lost rivers of London, while Janice Longbright and the Best of Friends lets the redoubtable Ms L take centre stage.

The gags are as good as ever. While investigating a crime in a tattoo parlour, Arthur is mistaken for a customer and asked if he has a design in mind:

“I once considered having something on my right bicep but I couldn’t make up my mind between Sir Robert Peel and Dianor Dors.”

When PCU boss Raymond Land is faced with a difficult choice:

“There crept upon his face the anxiety of an Englishman stricken with indecision. It was a look you could see every day in Pret A Manger when middle managers struggled to choose sandwich fillings.”

Idon’t know Christopher Fowler personally, but I infer from his social media presence that he is a thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan chap and, with his spending his time between homes in Barcelona and King’s Cross, he could never be described as a Little Englander. How wonderful, then, that he is the most quintessentially English writer of our time. His Bryant & May stories draw in magical threads from English culture. There is the humour, which recalls George and Weedon Grossmith, WS Gilbert, and the various ‘Beachcombers’ down the years, particularly DB Wyndham Lewis and JB Morton. Fowler’s eagle eye for the evocative power of mundane domestic ephemera mirrors that of John Betjeman, while his fascination with the magnetic pull of the layers of history beneath London’s streets channels Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair.

This collection of short stories is a bar counter full of delicious Tapas rather than the sumptuous four course meal of a full novel, but the appetisers do what they are meant to do – stimulate the palate and make us hungry for more. England’s Finest is published by Doubleday and is out on 31st October.

For more reflections on Bryant & May – and the genius of their creator – click the image below.

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THE LONELY HOUR . . . Between the covers

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The impossibly geriatric constabulary codgers Arthur Bryant and John May return for another journey into London’s darkside in pursuit of those who kill. This time, the killer appears to be armed with a trocar – an obscure but deadly surgical instrument originally intended to penetrate the body allowing gases or fluid to escape. From the undergrowth of a copse on Hampstead Heath, and the unforgiving undertow of the Thames, via an exclusive multi-story apartment complex, to the pedestrian walkway of a Thames bridge, the victims seems to have nothing in common except the time of their demise – the deadly hour of 4.00 am.

Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 19.10.55Bryant and May – and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit – have been threatened with closure before, but this time their impatient and disapproving police bosses mean business. The PCU, both collectively and individually flounder around trying to work out what connects the corpses, and who is expertly wielding the trocar. Like Andrew Marvell’s ‘Time’s Winged Chariot’, the accountants and political schemers of the Metropolitan Police are ‘hurrying near’, and failure to catch this killer will certainly mean that the shambolic HQ of the Peculiar Crimes Unit on Caledonian Road will soon be in need of new tenants.

Don’t be misled by the jokes, delightful cultural references, and Arthur’s frequent put-downs of the PCU’s hapless boss, most of which go over Raymond Land’s head but, fortunately, not ours. Physicists will probably say that their world has different rules, but in literature light can only exist relative to darkness, and Fowler does not allow the chiffon gaiety within the Peculiar Crimes Unit to disguise a dystopian London woven from a much darker thread. He says:

“Approaching midnight, the black and grey striped concourse of King’s Cross Station remained almost as busy as it had been during the day. Some Italian students appeared to be having a picnic under the station canopy. A homeless girl ms on her knees next to a lengthy cardboard message explaining her circumstances. A Jamaican family dressed in home-made ecclesiastical vestments were warning everyone that hell awaited sinners. A phalanx of bachelorettes in tiny silver dresses, strappy shoes and bunny ears marched past, heading to their next destination like soldiers on a final tour of duty. Inside the station, tourists were still lurking round the Harry Potter trolley that had been originally set there as a joke by the station guards, then monetized when queues appeared. As flinty-eyed and mean as it had ever been, London was good at making everyone pay.”

If a better paragraph about London has been written in recent years, I have yet to read it

Fowler’s London is a place where the same streets, courtyards, alleys and highways have been walked for centuries; Roman legionaries, Norman functionaries, medieval merchants, Tudor politicians, Restoration poets, Georgian gamblers, Victorian philanthropists, Great War Tommies, and now City spivs with their dreams and nightmares spinning about in front of them on their smartphones – all have played their part in treading history down beneath their feet into a compressed and powerful seam of memory. This memory, whether they know it or not, affects the lives of those who live, work, lust, learn and – ultimately – die in London. Other writers, notably Peter Ackroyd, have been drawn to this lodestone and tapped into its power. Some authors have taken up the theme but befuddled readers with too much arcane psychogeography. Fowler gets it right. Every single time. With every sentence of every paragraph of every chapter.

Bryant is neither Mr Pastry, Charles Pooter nor Mr Bean. He is as sharp as a tack despite such running gags as his coat pockets being full of fluff covered boiled sweets long since disappeared from English shelves. If we knew no better, we might describe him as having a personality disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum, but there are precious moments in The Lonely Hour where the old man brings himself up short with the realisation that he is, most of the time, chronically selfish.

CF_Thanks to Bryant’s genius, the mystery is solved and the killer brought to justice, but these are certainly the grimmest days ever for the PCU, and as this brilliantly entertaining story reaches its conclusion, Fowler (right) slowly but irrevocably turns the tap marked Darkness to its fully open position. The Lonely Hour is published by Doubleday and is out now.

I have a beautiful hardback copy of this novel to give away. If you want to be in the prize draw, simply click this link.

COMPETITION . . . Win the new Bryant & May novel!

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ON MY SHELF . . . March 2019

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SPRING IN THE EAST OF ENGLAND has been played rather a nasty trick by the weather Gods. February fooled us with its sunshine, gentle breezes and benign temperatures. March is taking its revenge. Blossom, daffodils and narcissi are nodding gamely but only just about holding their own in the teeth of savage winds. Still, indoors is relatively calm, and with a stack of excellent new books to ponder, I think I will make it through to May. Our four authors are all on Twitter, so just click on the little birdy to see what they are all up to.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins

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square-twitterThis sounds as if it could be one of those bawdy recollections of a Victorian courtesan which passed for erotic literature in pre – 50 Shades days. It is, I am glad to say, nothing of the kind. It is, instead, a literary whodunnit set in early 19th century England. Then, as now, the media love an exotic criminal, no matter what crimes they may have committed. The chattering classes in the London of 1826 are, in turn, horrified and luridly curious about the defendant in a murder trial. The accused is a young woman, brought up on a slave plantation in her native Jamaica, and now she stands in the dock of the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her employers, Mr and Mrs Benham. The indictment is sensational:

“FRANCES LANGTON, also known as Dusky Fran or Ebony Fran, is indicted for the wilful murder of GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM in that she on the 27th day of January in the year of Our Lord 1826 did feloniously and with malice aforethought assault GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM, subjects of our lord the King, in tat she did strike and stab them until they were dead, both about the upper and middle chest, their bodies having been discovered by EUSTACIA LINUX, housekeeper of Montfort Street, London.”

Frannie Langton tells her story courtesy of Sara Collins who, after a successful career as a lawyer, took a Masters degree in creative writing at Cambridge. This, her debut novel, is published by Viking/Penguin and will be available on 4th April.

THE LONELY HOUR by Christopher Fowler

square-twitterI have never written anything more eye-catching or erudite than these book reviews, so I don’t really know what real authors use (apart from sales figures) as ‘performance indicators’ for success. I use the speech marks to show that I would never normally use such examples of Management Speak, so it’s irony, OK? I imagine, though, that when you have created a central character, or in this case a duo, that is is so recognisable that it gets a bigger font than both the book title and the author’s name on the dust jacket, then maybe you have made it. Christopher Fowler’s ageless pair of investigators are, in the nicest possible way, an in-joke before the first page is turned. Fowler is second to none in his ability to use obscure British brand names as he puns and funs his way through what are the most irresistibly English novels of our time, and his two constabulary codgers are, for younger readers, named after a brand of British matches which were first sold in the mid nineteenth century. Their latest adventure begins, as ever, in London, with a mysterious death which may be connected to black magic. The book blurb promises “murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail ….. and bats.” Expect brilliant use of language, an eccentric and bewildering plot with a breathtaking resolution  – and many a good joke. The Lonely Hour is out on 21st March and is published by Doubleday. The more perceptive among you might infer that I am a fan of Christopher Fowler. To find out more about his books, click on the gentleman’s image below, and all will be revealed.

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BONES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison

square-twitterEliot Pattison is an American writer who has written a superb series of novels, of which this the tenth, featuring a Chinese detective, Inspector Shan Tao Yun, who has upset the Communist regime by his honesty and single minded integrity. Managing to escape a state firing squad he has, instead, been exiled to the wilds of Tibet where, or so his masters believe, he can do no harm. The Inspector is forced to witness the execution of a Tibetan for corruption, but he can’t shake the suspicion that he has instead witnessed a murder arranged by conspiring officials. As ever, Shan chooses the hard road, and his investigations bring him into contact with the vengeful father of a murdered American archaeologist who is determined to find justice for his dead son. Shan becomes slap dab in the middle of a deathly struggle between the mystical world of Tibetan gods and the implacable bureacrats back in Beijing. Bones Of The Earth is out on 26th March, and is published by Minotaur Books. I’ve reviewed and recommended earlier novels by Eliot Pattison, so click the image below to find out more.

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NO ONE HOME by Tim Weaver

square-twitterIt seems like only the other day that Tim Weaver introduced us to his investigator David Raker, yet No One Home is the tenth novel in the series. Raker has, you might say, a niche talent. He finds missing people. People in whom the police have lost interest, with just their distraught wife, husband, son or daughter left to care. Raker pursues his missing folk to some of the most far-flung parts of the world, but here, the mystery begins close to home. In a baffling disappearance to rival the unsolved mystery of the Marie Celeste, Raker isn’t just chasing one elusive subject – he’s after an entire community. The nine members of a tiny hamlet sit down to eat, drink and have fun on All Hallows Eve. When the grey dawn comes, they are gone. Every single one of them. Is Raker about to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy, or will he just have to settle for corpses? You will have to be patient to read how David Raker tackles this latest challenge, as Michael Joseph will be publishing the book on 16th May. Meanwhile click on the picture below to find out a little more about how Mr R operates.

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HALL OF MIRRORS . . . Between the covers

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HOMIf a more extraordinary duo of fictional detectives exists than Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May, then I have yet to discover them. The peculiar pair return in Hall of Mirrors for their fifteenth outing, and this time not only are they far from their beloved London, but we see a pair of much younger coppers on their beat in the 1960s. Fowler’s take on the period is typified by each of the fifty chapters of the novel bearing the title of a classic pop hit. We are also reminded of the strange fashions of the day.

“Two young men in Second World War army uniforms painted with ‘Ban The Bomb’ slogans were arguing with a pair of Chelsea Pensioners who clearly didn’t take kindly to military outfits being worn by trendy pacifists. They were briefly joined by a girl wearing a British sailor’s uniform with a giant iridescent fish on her head.”

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In attempt to keep them out of trouble, our heroes are given the task of being minders to an important witness in a fraud trial, but Monty Hatton-Jones is due at a country weekend party deep in rural Kent, and so John and Arthur must accompany him to Tavistock Hall. What follows is a delicious take on the Golden Age country house mystery, with improbable murders, secret passages, an escaped homicidal maniac and suspects galore. Things are complicated by nearby military manoeuvres involving the British army and their French counterparts. Fowler (above) reprises the great gag from Dr Strangelove – “Gentlemen – you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!” Captain Debney, the British Commanding Officer is having a bad day.

“The menu for tonight’s hands Across The Water dinner has already gone up the Swanee. We had terrible trouble getting hold of courgettes, and now I hear there’s no custard available. I don’t want anything else going wrong. These are international war games. We can’t afford to have anyone hurt.”

The urbane John May is quite at home in the faded grandeur of Tavistock Hall, but Arthur is like a fish out of water. He also has an aversion to the countryside.

“It appeared to be the perfect Kentish evening, pink with mist and fresh with the scent of the wet grass. Bryant looked at it with a jaundiced eye. There was mud everywhere, the cows stank, and were all those trees really necessary? As a child he had been terrified of the bare, sickly elm in his street with a branch that scarped at his bedroom window like a witch’s hand and sent him under the blankets.”

 As usual with the B & M books, the jokes come thick and fast, but we are reminded that Fowler is a perceptive and eloquent commentator on the human condition. Arthur investigates the local parish church as its rector, Revd Trevor Patethric is a house guest – and suspect.

“Bryant pushed open the church door and entered. He had never felt comfortable in the houses of God, associating them with gruelling rites of childhood: saying farewell to dead grandfathers, and the observance of distant, obscure ceremonies involving hushed prayers, peculiarly phrased bible passages, muffled tears and shamed repentance.”

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 Eventually, of course, the pair – mostly through Arthur’s twisted thought processes – solve the crimes. Prior to revealing his theories on the murder to the assembled guests, however, Bryant has a slight misfortune with a missing painting hidden in a very unswept chimney. Covered in soot, he somehow lacks the gravitas of a Poirot or a Marple.

“Bryant had made a desultory attempt to wipe his face, but the result was more monstrous than before. He rose before them now, a lunatic lecturer in the physics of murder.”

Reading a crime novel shouldn’t be about being educated, but Hall of Mirrors teaches us many things. Those who didn’t already know will learn that Christopher Fowler is a brilliant writer. He is, in my view, out on his own in the way he weaves a magic carpet from a dazzling array of different threads: there is uniquely English humour, the sheer joy of the eccentricities of our language and landscape, labyrinthine plotting, and an array of arcane cultural references which will surely have Betjeman beaming down from heaven. Those of us who, smugly perhaps, consider ourselves as old Bryant & May hands will also now know the origins of Arthur’s malodorous scarf and also his cranky, clanky Mini.

Amidst the gags, the fizzing dialogue and the audacious plot twists Fowler waves his magic wand, and with the lightest of light touches dusts a page near the very end with poignancy and great compassion. Look out for the section that ends:

“Bryant looked in his mirror to try and catch another glimpse of them, but they had disappeared, ghosts of a London yet to come.”

 And do you want to know the best five words of the entire book? I’ll tell you:

Bryant and May Will Return

Hall of Mirrors is published by Quercus, and is available from 22nd March.

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler

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Have you ever heard of Chip Taylor? No, me neither until I researched this post. He is still with us, and was born James Wesley Voight in 1940 and, yes, he is the brother of John and uncle to the fragrant Angelina Jolie. His claim to fame? He penned the immortal line (if you’re a fan of The Troggs, that is)

“Wild Thing – you make my heart sing..”

 Some things, wild or otherwise, do make my heart sing. For example, in no particular order, the first heady sip from a glass of the luxury single malt, Lagavulin. Hearing, via Test Match Special, the unique subdued hum of thousands of spectators at Lords. Fishing on my favourite water in the tiny French hamlet of Aizelles, and feeling the line scream off the reel as a fat carp takes my bait. Snuggling in an armchair with my little granddaughter as we watch yet another re-run of a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon. And – this one is special – opening a parcel to reveal a new Bryant & May book by one of my favourite authors – Christopher Fowler.

HOMThe dust jackets of the Bryant & May novels are a work of art in themselves, but between the covers is where the true genius lies. Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives working for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an imaginary department of London’s Metropolitan Police. Their adventures take them mostly to curious and forgotten corners of London where the past is just below the modern surface. Fowler has many talents as a writer, not least of which is his comedic talent. He is a direct descendant of English humourists such as George and Weedon Grossmith and HV Morton, and the jokes come thick and fast amid the serious business of solving murders or strange crimes.

The new book? It’s called Hall of Mirrors, and takes us back to 1969. Our intrepid pair are sent to Tavistock Hall to investigate dark deeds on a country house weekend. I’ve already started to read the book, so look out for a full review very soon. The publicist, in full alliteration mode, warns us to expect ‘murder, madness and mayhem in the mansion,’ but me? I’m looking forward to meeting the one-armed brigadier, Nigel ‘Fruity’ Metcalf!

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COMPETITION … Win STRANGE TIDE by Christopher Fowler

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I COUNT MYSELF GENUINELY LUCKY to be sent novels by publishers and authors who are looking for coverage of their books. Any reviewer will tell you the same thing. Inevitably, it is impractical to keep all the books once they have been read and reviewed. I pass on books to like-minded friends, or take a batch to the charity shops in town. But some contemporary books I guard with my life, and they will leave my house over my dead body.

7061d-chrisfowlerThe Urban Dictionary tells me that a “keeper” is is a colloquial phrase derived from “for keeps,” which means worth keeping forever. I have an eclectic list of CriFi keepers which include such diverse talents as Walter Mosley, Phil Rickman, Harry Bingham, Eva Dolan and Jim Kelly. But top of my list is the wonderful Bryant and May series by Christopher Fowler (left). So, rest assured, I would not be putting this lovely new paperback up as a prize if I did not already have my hardback copy in pride of place on my bookshelf.

ST back033STRANGE TIDE is set, as you may expect, in London, but it’s a London few of us will ever see. It’s a world of forgotten alleyways, strange histories, abandoned amusement arcades, inexplicable legends and murder – always murder. Strange Tide was my book of the year for 2016, and you can read my review of it by following this link.

If you would like to win the paperback version of Strange Tide, then answer a simple question. Fans of the series will know the christian names of the two aged detectives. So, if you think their names are Reg Bryant and Michael May, then send me an email with Reg, Michael in the subject box. The email address is below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Wednesday 31st May 2017.
• One entry per competitor.• Entries accepted from Europe, America, Asia and Australasia (basically anywhere!)
• The winner will be drawn out of the (digital) hat.

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ON MY SHELF 2017 … Leon, Fowler & Lovesey

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The good books come thick and fast at this time of year, and this week we have three very well known and justifiably popular authors. Each of the three has a long running series, each with its own passionate readership. The three authors between them have notched up an astonishing 57 novels featuring their lead characters. The three series have another common factor in that they are set in three of the world’s most beautiful cities – Venice, London and Bath.

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti returns for another intriguing mystery set in his native Venice. Brunetti is feeling his age, and the constant pressure of the expectations of his bosses in La Questura has led to him making an error of judgment which threatens to derail his career. Rather like the football manager who substitutes a player before he can collect the second Yellow card, Brunetti’s wife insists he takes leave of absence, and packs him off to stay with a relative on the quiet and thinly populated island of Sant’Erasmo. But this, of course, is a crime thriller, and we all know that recuperating detectives always attract dark deeds. In this case it is the disappearance of Davide Casati, the caretaker of the house. Brunetti is drawn reluctantly but inevitably in the search for the man, and it soon becomes apparent that he would have had more rest if he’d stayed at home.

Earthly Remains is published by William Heinemann and will be available from 6th April.

OMS middleTo London, and most elderly pair of investigators currently still working. Existing fans of Arthur Bryant and John May have come to expect quirky humour, clever wordplay, an unrivaled knowledge of the topography and history of London, and a Betjeman-esque poetry of description which sometimes appears humdrum, but is often very profound.  Christopher Fowler loves jokes that involve popular culture and brand names, and readers of a certain age will know that even the naming of the two elderly investigators is a little gem of a joke. The cobwebby pair work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an esoteric (and purely fictional) branch of the Metropolitan Police. They are constantly under threat of being pensioned off, but their investigations always take them to  mysterious parts of London (usually entirely factual).  Arthur Bryant – as usual – baffles and exasperates  his colleagues, but in this tale his arcane knowledge of London helps the Unit solve the open air version of The Locked Room Mystery. The title? This is from Fowler’s erudite and entertaining website.

“London’s greenery is absurdly generous. There’s no way of avoiding it wherever you walk. London’s parks, woodlands, ancient forests, secret gardens, informal community parks, tended meadows, play areas, crescents, allotments, polygons, circuses, heaths and commons each have a different character. Add to these our obsession with back gardens (not places to be kept beautiful but somewhere messy to escape to) and you start to think that these ‘wild chambers’ are there to stop families from going mad.”

Wild Chambers is published by Bantam Press, and is out in hardback on 23rd March.

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Peter-LoveseyThis week’s award for the most menacing title must go to Peter Lovesey (right) and his Somerset and Avon copper, Peter Diamond. More used to solving high profile murder cases, Diamond is not best pleased when he is called in to investigate an apparent motoring accident. Tragically, a police vehicle, speeding late at night to a possible crime scene, spins off the road, killing one of the officers. Hours later, Diamond discovers that the officer is not the only victim. On an adjacent embankment, undiscovered by the emergency teams, is the rider of a motorised trike. The man is close to death, but Diamond administers CPR successfully enough for the victim to be taken to hospital, where he remains in a critical condition. Diamond, however, is not able to sit back and bask in the warm knowledge that he has carried out a valuable public service. His bosses are desperate that the whole RTA  is not blamed on the police force, but what causes Diamond the most anxiety is the emerging likelihood that the man whose life he saved is almost certainly a serial killer.

Another One Dies Tonight came out in hardback in 2016, but will be available in paperback for the first time on 6th April.

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016 … The winner!

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THE FULLY BOOKED BEST BOOK OF 2016

We already have selections for Best Dialogue, Best Historical Novel, and Best Psychological Thriller. Next up came the awards for Best Non-UK Novel, Best Police Procedural and Best PI Novel. Now, though, it’s drum roll time, and this is the book which, for me, was the outstanding publication of 2016.

Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a kind of lost property facility for London’s Metropolitan Police. Orphan crimes, unsolved murders, unexplained disappearances – in short, investigations which would cost the cash-strapped Met Police valuable man hours are left on the doorstep of the PCU. Its two senior detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May are impossibly ancient but have an irreplaceable knowledge of London’s unique criminal history. The odd couple, particularly the apparently shambolic Bryant, have an almost visceral connection to the countless misdeeds committed on the capital’s ancient streets and lanes.

strange-tideBut all is not well. Arthur Bryant is physically sound enough, but his encyclopaedic mind is starting to betray him. He is suffering episodes of serious dislocation. He causes havoc in what he thinks is an academic library when he’s actually in the soft furnishings department of British Home Stores. While soaking up the ambiance of a Thames-side crime scene, all he can sense are the sights, sounds and smells of the early 20th century docks. John May and the more sprightly members of the PCU have to keep Arthur virtually under lock and key, for his own protection.

While trying to stop Arthur from wandering off and doing himself a mischief, the PCU team are investigating a bizarre death. A disturbed young woman has been found – drowned – chained to a concrete block on what had been an artificial Edwardian beach on a neglected section of the riverbank. She was several months pregnant, but her insouciant chancer of a boyfriend is innocent of both her demise and her impregnation. Why was there only one set of footprints leading towards the corpse?

As well as being among Britain’s best current crime writers, Fowler also carries the torch passed on by the great English humourists. With his gentle, quirky but needle sharp observations of the sheer daftness of the way we live now, he links hands with such writers as George and Weedon Grossmith, JB ‘Beachcomber’ Morton,  John Betjeman, Israel Zangwill and Colin Watson.

Behind the gags, the knowing cultural references, the ingenious plotting and the clever characterisations, we have Fowler’s unique take on London itself. No living writer save, perhaps, in their different ways, Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, knows London quite like Christopher Fowler. In other books in the series he has turned his expert eye on the theatres, the city’s lost rivers, and its medieval legends. The star of the show in Strange Tide is the River Thames itself. The crime is eventually solved, Arthur’s malaise is mostly cured, but the powerful river remains the city’s lifeblood. In a telling paragraph, Fowler reveals the deep, dark, blue centre of what he is about.

“…the metropolis is ultimately changeless. Its people remain the same because London is a state of mind. They do not make London. London makes them.”

Strange Tide is published by Doubleday.

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