17 May 2010

Full dark house

A month after JSBlog recommended the Bryant and May novels, today's read was the first case in their partnership: Full dark house. Triangulating from this different point in the series, I endorse JSB's recommendation. You'll have to be prepared for a horrible crime (which turns out to be a ... but no ... if you're going to read it, I'll let you find out for yourself what it turns out to be ... and if you're not, then it doesn't matter) or two, but they only punctuate what is on the whole a humanly engrossing puzzle.

In many ways, it's not a crime or detection novel at all, but whatever the literary equivalent might be of a buddy movie. Bryant and May are (if you'll forgive the cliché) like chalk and cheese. Bryant is a dreamer and visionary who takes the intellectual road less travelled to its apogee beyond all sense; May is a feet on the ground sceptic, driven to distraction by is partner's flights of degree which threaten not only the case and their careers but the unlikely existence of their department. In the end, both cases (past and present) are solved in the disconnect space between the two, after both have failed to make progress using their own approaches.

One of the things that impressed me was the author's ability to move back and forth between a nineteen year old May in the London Blitz of the 1940s and a May in his eighties in the early 21st century, consistently maintaining believability and texture in both cases.

Around the pair are other intriguing minor characters: the stock forensic scientist, the woman sergeant whose gender keeps her from being taken seriously (and whose daughter is still with May in the present day), the diligent closed minded constable who is won over in the end ... not to mention assorted witches, actors, spiritualists, landladies, Greek millionaires, and a carnival of others, amid bombed sewers and falling masonry

A wonderful ride. I shall certainly move on through the sequels.

  • Christopher Fowler, Full dark house. 2003, London: Doubleday, 0385605536 (hbk) or 2004, London: Bantam, 0553815520 (pbk)

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