Backstories To The Bryant & May Books No.1
This is the start of a short series of backstories to the Bryant & May novels, explaining how I came to write them.
Full Dark House
My father was a scientist who worked in an experimental wartime communications unit. He and his colleagues were very young, and – it turns out – were working towards a discovery that later changed the world. The full story is told in my memoir â€˜Paperboyâ€™, which he sadly didnâ€™t live to read. He was unhappy after his company moved to Canada and he found himself having to stay in London, so I started the story as a little recompense for him.
Arthur Bryant and John May therefore head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a police division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause public unrest. Based above a London tube station, the technophobic, irascible Bryant and smooth-talking modernist John May were to head a team of equally unusual misfits who are just as likely to commit crimes as solve them. This was their first outing.
My father did get to read the book – some of his stories about working in the unit eventually made it into the series – and he enjoyed them.
â€˜Bawdy, unpredictable and at times hilarious, with a cast of wonderful grotesquesâ€™ â€“ The Guardian
The Water Room
Bryant & Mayâ€™s investigation of a secret world beneath London begins when a woman is found in a dry basement with her throat full of river-water. In the quiet street where she lives, the residents are unsettled by the sound of rushing water. Further impossible deaths reveal a connection to the lost underground rivers of London, and a disgraced academic hunts an ancient secret that will soon be lost within the forgotten canals.
The idea came from the house in which I used to live in North London’s shabby, writerly Kentish Town, which had a room exactly like this, built over an underground river. The map in the front is even a copy of my own street. In my basement bathroom was a break-panel leading into the river which could be accessed in an emergency. The clues in the book are based on my surrounding streets; under there next road was a larger river – called, tellingly, ‘Angler’s Lane, with a pub on the corner called The Jolly Anglers. The river was paved over and the pub is now a Nando’s, so London lost another little bit of its geography.
And yet, after a heavy rain, you’ll find fresh grass growing through the pavement cracks where the river beneath is overflowing – a sign that you can never quite wipe out the city’s history.
â€˜The Water Room is terrific: great characters, great writing and lots of atmosphere. Fowler is very good at constructing a mystery, unlike a lot of new mysteries that don’t create the puzzles like the classic mysteries didâ€™ â€“ Publishersâ€™ Weekly
(I always hated this cover, which came to be known as the ‘Simpsons Cover’.)