Backstories To The Bryant & May Books No.2
Seventy Seven Clocks
Arthur Bryant, writing his memoirs, recalls a case from 1973. As strikes and blackouts ravage the country a rare painting is vandalised in the National Gallery, and members of a high-born family are killed in a variety of lunatic ways – by tiger, bomb and barber. As the hours of daylight diminish towards winter’s shortest day, Bryant & May discover that a Victorian legacy holds the key…
When Seventy-Seven Clocks appeared in hardback, it caused a bit of a rumpus. In the planning, I envisaged a set of six novels that would form a chronological history of my detective duo’s greatest cases,using all the devices of classic murder mysteries, including disguised identities, locked room puzzles, surprise endings and nick-of-time rescues. I had tested the characters in three earlier adventures, and was ready to provide a definitive history of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
One of the early books in which the detectives appeared was called Darkest Day, but it did not find its audience, mainly, I felt, because I had been asked to add supernatural elements to the story – and as any mystery reader knows, resorting to the impossible is not playing fair.
However, there were good things in the book that I felt could be presented afresh, and I decided to rewrite it as a case from Bryant & May’s past. I made over a thousand changes to the original manuscript, adding pointers to past and future events in the detectives’ lives, matching it to the other books in the new series, removing the supernatural angle and resetting the plot during the era of Prime Minister Edward Heath’s disastrous ‘Three-Day Week’ government.
When it was published with an explanatory Afterword, a handful of fans were incensed, despite the fact that I announced my intentions many times in interviews. We happily buy new versions of movies, but I had a valid reason for rewriting Seventy-Seven Clocks, for without it there would only have been five integrated Bryant & May novels in the series, not six. In this case, I stumbled upon an amazing fact about London in the late 19th century, and decided it would make the basis of a B&M adventure. Also, the tontine in Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Wrong Box’ had a bit to do with it. This is probably the most outrageous of all their adventures, yet there’s a nugget of truth at its heart.
‘Witty, charming and informed about London, but – this is important – the story-lines are vivid, tough and have a hard edge.’ – The Times
Ten Second Staircase
When a controversial artist is found dead in her own art installation, inside a riverside gallery with locked doors and windows, the only witness is a small boy who insists that the murderer was a masked man riding a stallion. Then a television presenter is struck by lightning while indoors…clearly, they’re the kind of impossible crimes that only Bryant & May can solve. But Bryant has lost his nerve following a disastrous public appearance, and May is fighting to keep the unit from closure.
I wrote this after I went to the Saatchi ‘Sensation’ exhibition which, paradoxically, I found absolutely thrilling. But it was a time when the public started to venerate vacuous celebrity over anything controversial or demanding to think about. There was a new sense of democracy, that anyone could now become a celebrity – but an idea that they might also do so for harm. I wanted to write about the subject in the context of an enjoyable novel, and this was the result.
We’re still in the grip of celebrity fever, but perhaps it has loosened to a point where we can understand its implications and be more wary of its effect on the young.
‘A marvelous premise…these are really, really great reads, absolutely full of London detail.’ – BBC Radio 4