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 â€“ by tiger, bomb and barber. As the hours of daylight diminish towards winterâ€™s shortest day, Bryant & May discover that a Victorian legacy holds the keyâ€¦
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 duoâ€™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 â€“ 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 & Mayâ€™s past. I made over a thousand changes to the original manuscript, adding pointers to past and future events in the detectivesâ€™ 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 Heathâ€™s disastrous â€˜Three-Day Weekâ€™ 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 Stevensonâ€™s â€˜The Wrong Boxâ€™ had a bit to do with it. This is probably the most outrageous of all their adventures, yet thereâ€™s a nugget of truth at its heart.
â€˜Witty, charming and informed about London, but â€“ this is important â€“ the story-lines are vivid, tough and have a hard edge.â€™ – 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 indoorsâ€¦clearly, theyâ€™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.
Weâ€™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.
â€˜A marvelous premiseâ€¦these are really, really great reads, absolutely full of London detail.â€™ â€“ BBC Radio 4