Backstories To The Bryant & May Books No.4

Bryant and May

8. offtherails

Bryant & May On The Loose

In rush-hour King’s Cross, one of the busiest crossing points in Britain, finding a murderer would be a nightmare for any force. But when a decapitated body is found in a shop freezer, London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit is not summoned – because the unit has been disbanded, and elderly detectives Bryant & May have no access to evidence that can help them find a killer. The situation worsens with the appearance of a second headless body.

This book was born from two ideas. First, I moved to King’s Cross, one of the most manic spots in London, although for many years prior I had been witness to the fight going on about its derelict land. I had always been drawn to the area. Despite the fact that it was crime-ridden, grey, treeless and run-down, it was also filled with interesting, atmospheric pockets and good people. The King’s Cross of my childhood quickly vanished – although it can be glimpsed in films like ‘The Ladykillers’ and ‘Smashing Time’. I watched as public housing developments were torn down and replaced with luxury private apartments for overseas investors, and saw that in with the regeneration came something bad as well.

It set me wondering, who really owns the London landscape? Some investigation on my part started to reveal surprising facts, and I also created a villain worthy of the PCU team…this proved too much to get into one book, and it spilled over into a sort-of sequel.

‘The eccentric views of London in Christopher Fowler’s playful Peculiar Crimes Unit novels will gladden the heart of anyone who appreciates an offbeat mystery…is this fun or what?’ – The New York Times Book Review


Bryant & May Off The Rails

London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit has been given a week to clear its backlog of investigations. But the only mystery on their books looks like a mundane accident – a young mother falls down the escalator in a rush-hour tube station, in full view of commuters and cameras. Still, detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are nagged by the doubt that something wicked has occurred.

When a clue links a second corpse to the London Underground, Bryant needs no excuse to start investigating the strange history of forgotten stations, ghosts and suicides, as a seemingly trivial clue sends him searching for a clever killer who always covers his tracks.

This picked up on themes that were explored in the previous book, but this time I wanted to go deeper. The area is London’s transport hub – most of London passes through it in the average working week, mores than Piccadilly Circus – and there’s an especially complex network of underground tunnels here, so I took my detectives below the level of the streets, to the strange, vast world of London’s hidden world. I’d been fascinated with the tube system for a long time, and rather than base the research solely on reading, I went out to talk to the men and women who worked and walked the system.

The ending took even me by surprise, and I grew quite upset writing it because so much was true. I was in King’s Cross on the morning that the real-life drama occurred, and a few years later I was trying to get into the station when another terrible tragedy happened – the 7/7 bombings. There were three bombs that morning and my route to work sent past all three sites. I remembered how amazing people were and how they helped each other.

King’s Cross always used to get bad press; lazy journos always prefaced it with the words ‘seedy’ or ‘rundown’ – how easily they flipped over into describing it as ‘funky’ and ‘cool’ as soon as the fashionistas moved in! So these books became my tribute to the area.

‘Sophisticated, fast-paced and confounding until its final twist, Bryant & May Off The Rails is Christopher Fowler dead on track and at the height of his power to beguile, bewitch and entertain.’ The Book Critics

2 comments on “Backstories To The Bryant & May Books No.4”

  1. Wayne says:

    I really found these two books sparked a much deeper interest in B&M for me, the books sort of came of age along with the characters that developed so much. For me too these two book bought back memories of working in London and visiting the industrial estates, passing the forgotten low rise flats and seeing the gas storage facility. The atmosphere of that sightly down at heal area as it once was, was bough flodding back to me.

    Wonderfully crafted couple of books.

  2. Lilly says:

    Fascinated by this book especially becuase I attended the Touche Inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court.”not a million miles” from the Mortuary you describe so vividly.
    Is there any way of finding out what became of the coroner,Dr Susan Hungerford?
    And where is her predecessor, Dr Chan?

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