TSS – Book Review: Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler

Full Dark HouseSynopsis:

A present-day bombing rips through London and claims the life of eighty-year-old detective Arthur Bryant. For John May, it means the end of a partnership that lasted over half a century and an eerie echo back to the Blitz of World War II, when they first met. Desperately searching for clues to the killer’s identity, May finds his irascible old friend’s notes of their very first case and becomes convinced that the past has returned … with a killing vengeance.

It was an investigation that plunged the fledgling detectives into a complex and lethal puzzle. It began when a dancer in a risqué new production of Orpheus in Hell was found without her feet. In a city shaken by war, a faceless killer was stalking London’s theaters, creating his own kind of sinister drama. And it would take Arthur Bryant’s most unorthodox techniques and John May’s dogged police work to catch a criminal whose ability to escape detection seemed almost supernatural – a murderer who decades later seems to have claimed the life of one of them … and is determined to claim the other.

The Snapshot Review

What I Liked: Great quirky characters, and wonderfully adroit handling of shifts between the past and present.

First Line: “It really was a hell of a blast.”

Ms. Bookish’s Very Quick Take: This book, the debut novel in the Bryant and May series, is a wonderful look at a young Bryant and May.

The Full Review of Full Dark House

I started on Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series in a backwards way – the first book I read in the series was The Water Room, which I had read over a year ago, before I started blogging here. I recently finished White Corridor and almost immediately afterward picked up Full Dark House, the debut novel in the series.

Full Dark House begins with an explosion that rips through the present-day offices of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, home to the senior (in both senses of the word) detectives Arthur Bryant and John May. A body is found in one of the rooms, burnt beyond recognition, the only identifiable thing a set of dentures belonging to Arthur Bryant.

As John May copes with the loss of his friend Bryant, his mind goes back to when the two of them first met, in November of 1940 when London faced continuous enemy bombings and aerial attacks, blackouts and death were all too frequent and familiar. Something about that first case has a bearing on Bryant’s death.

Fowler effortlessly weaves the narrative between past and present, going from the present day mystery – what was Bryant investigating before he met his untimely death? Is someone now following May with the intent of killing him, too? – to wartime London, where the much younger detectives find themselves dealing with several mysterious deaths among actors rehearsing at the Palace Theatre. I was very impressed with Fowler’s handling of the shifts in time; I was never confused or at a loss as to where in time I was immediately after a transition.

As a reader familiar with Bryant and May coming to this first novel in the series, it was pure delight to meet the younger Bryant and May, to see them not yet in full possession of the wisdom of experience. Despite this, these younger selves still hold the beginnings of the characteristics which mark their more mature years. We also meet Detective Sergeant Gladys Forthright; years later her daughter Janice Longbright follows in her footsteps at the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Fowler’s depiction of wartorn London, a time of destruction and death during which life went on, and people coped, adds a richness to the story. The descriptions are weaved into the narrative, pulling the reader back to that time without being obtrusive:

A deep crater had been blown in the centre of Charing Cross Road, exposing the underground trains to daylight. In Farringdon, a fish shop was hit by a bomb that loosened a great girder, causing it to fall on a queue of housewives. Not even gangs of men could move the beam, and the women had to wait and die while a crane was sought.

If you’ve never read the Bryant and May Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, Full Dark House is a great place to start; and if, like me, you started with a book midway in the series, Full Dark House will charm you and enrich your understanding of those two quirky and fun characters, Arthur Bryant and John May. I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Ms. Bookish’s Rating: Wonderful ?

More about the Author and the Book

Christopher Fowler’s site and blog.

Where to buy:

U.S. (Amazon.com)

Canada (Chapters)

UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Title: Full Dark House
Author: Christopher Fowler
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Mystery
Format and length: Hardcover, 356 pages
Published: 2004

7 thoughts on “TSS – Book Review: Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler

  1. Christopher Fowler

    I’m really glad you enjoyed my starting point for the Bryant & May series. Thanks to book sites like this, readers are really discovering the books, and you’re right – I always intended that they could be read out of sequence.

  2. Pingback: Christopher Fowler, Full Dark House (2003) « Follow the Thread

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