Further Secrets Of Bryant & May Part 2

Bryant and May

off the rails rough 2

With a collection of Bryant & May’s missing cases out in just over two weeks and a new novel on the horizon, I thought it would be worth taking another look at some of the things I build into the series that perhaps go unnoticed by casual readers.

First, when I set out, I had only planned to write one novel and move on, as I do with every other genre I dip into, but Bryant & May proved too rich an area to give up so easily. I’ve always planned in long story arcs – I had planned the novel ‘Plastic’ as a trilogy, but had great trouble selling the idea of a female noir to a major publishing house, so I cancelled the follow-ups. The plans for Bryant & May involved a story arc of six volumes, which I carried out and ended with ‘The Victoria Vanishes’, so that if you look back through the books you’ll find references to the Ministry of Defence suicides throughout, although I was careful to keep these from the main plots in order to avoid limiting the enjoyment of casual readers. The deaths of a number of Asian workers all by drowning is still unexplained and has now been shoved under the carpet.

The next six books did the same thing, developing the idea of government control further and providing a bigger backstory that you only notice from a distance. What I didn’t want to do though was just end up with a huge government conspiracy, because such arcs never go anywhere.

the burning man

Meanwhile the characters grew. Liberty DuCaine had to be the one to go because basically he was performing the same function as Colin Bimsley. The character of Raymond Land was modelled on the Sultan in ‘The Thief of Baghdad ‘ – useless and overlooked – but gradually I became interested in him, and now he’s evolving quite nicely into a more rounded figure, annoying and confused but an occasional hero when push comes to shove.

With the recommissioning of the books I decided on an arc involving other more personal aspects of the lives of the characters, so that the ending of ‘The Burning Man’ shouldn’t come as too big a shock to anyone who spotted the clues which are peppered throughout the preceding volumes. I had finally got the mysteries and the personal lives of the characters in better balance, and it made writing easier. I also decided to make the books more topical, so that the banking riots were reflected in ‘The Burning Man’ and the Syrian refugee crisis provides a start-point for next year’s novel.

Something else happened that made me continue; as believability is important, massive strides in medical practice and changes in social attitudes made it feasible to have detectives still working well past their retirement age. It also helped that I had started to fall back in love with London, and was discovering the city anew; something which is managing more than anything else to keep the series fresh. I plan well in advance; in one of the future books the plot at first appears fantastical and farcical – but it’s nowhere near as bizarre as the true life case that inspired it (I may publish the original case as an addendum). My problem is that the case is currently going to court, so I’m hoping it will be resolved by the time I reach that novel.

I feed off strange things that happen here all the time. Last week in London, a Venetian art thief who stole a Tiepolo from a church was tied to a shopping trolley and drowned in the canal right outside my window as his fellow thieves punished him for betraying them. When things like that happen in your neighbourhood, you don’t have to make much up.

Writing a series is like plate-spinning – how long can I keep this thing in the air? Well, some authors tackling detective series manage 20 to 50 books. I won’t do that but I’ll keep going until public appetite suggests I should stop. ‘London’s Glory’ gave me a chance to test-drive the pair in short stories; something all classic crime writers have tried in the past. As well as gathering together ten missing cases artist Keith Page added a cutaway drawing of the PCU, and I added the contents of Arthur’s bookshelves, plus a book-by-book breakdown of the story so far and an essay on crime. Bryant & May therefore becomes a sort of repository for all the ideas I have about London…



13 comments on “Further Secrets Of Bryant & May Part 2”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    You keep writing, I’ll keep reading 🙂

  2. Jo W says:

    And not long to wait now!

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    The two biggest selling crime writers, Agatha Christie and Earle Stanley Gardner both carried on much longer. I know Christie wanted to bump off Hercule due to his age but still they gave people a lot of pleasure.

    As long as there is demand please carry on.


  4. Stephen says:

    Hi. Christopher, this. Is. The. First. Time. I’m. Leaving. a. Comment. I’ve. Been. enjoying. your. Work. Since. You. Started. One. Question, have. The. Bryant. And. May. Short. Stories. That. Have. Already. Been. Published. Been. revised. for the. Collection.

  5. Jackie Hayles says:

    The prospect of more Bryant and May makes me feel better about being close to the end of The Sand Men, which has been a wonderful read. I hate finishing your books, but I can’ t stop reading them once I have started.

  6. Adam says:

    Really looking forward to the short story collection. I’ve just finished The Sand Men, which I think is one of your best books to date and something I’m recommending to anyone who asks (and to those who don’t!).

  7. admin says:

    Thanks for kind words about The Sand Men – and yes Stephen, I think the ones which have appeared before have been revised. I prepped them especially for this edition so that they would balance each other out in that running order and work as a proper set. Interesting punctuation you chose!

  8. m says:

    I can’t wait for the new book. It’ll give me something to look forward to when I finish the Sand Men. Your Bryant and May books were a big part of the reason I finally made it to visit London.

  9. Jenny Spencer says:

    You can manage many,many more Bryant and May novels. They are spell binding. Living here in Sydney, Australia I have learnt so much about London from your books.I’m originally from Yorkshire. I look up all the relevant places mentioned in the books on Google Maps. Looking forward to all your future Bryant and May books.Cheers.

  10. David Owen says:

    Dear Christopher, I have only just discovered your books with on the loose. I will read all the others. As a scientist who is a bit too fact-loving for my own good the story based around the wells of the Fleet River inspired me to go for a hunt after visiting the Wellcome Trust on Euston Rd. I realise this is probably dull but could you explain the tunnels and conduits and wells – especially the one B&M go uphill through to reach St Pancras Old Church please? How did these wells work in general? Were they really springs that flowed into a pool and then onwards into the Flett/Bagnigge river?

    Thank you and thank you for the books – the perfect antidote at 11am everyday for half an hour to escape other scientists and accompany my WRVS coffee!

  11. admin says:

    This is a pretty big subject, David, and gets complicated according to who you believe, as much of this has now passed into conjectural history, but if I can direct you to a book called ‘Underground London’ (I don’t have it in front of me) and the bookshop Housemans in Caledonian Road in King’s Cross, they know local London expert Merlin who has the full story of the Penton and the rivers. There are several books on lost London rivers (for one of which, by Tom Bolton, I wrote the intro). The wells are all real – I have one in my basement (capped) and watched them dig out the one under King’s Place. There are others dotted along New Wharf Road but I imagine you’d have to get permission from residents to see them.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Just watched the New Tricks that is a direct lift from your books – the source of the Fleet, the wells and spas, standing over the grating to hear the Fleet below, A. Crowley, and the weirdies, oh and the Hardy Tree – all in one program. Their characters aren’t a patch on yours, although I do enjoy the series in spite of it. I’m going to go back and read The Water Room as I think you explained a lot of the water flow in that.
    Is London ‘surfacing’ any of her rivers? That seems to be the coming thing, bringing the buried streams back to the surface.

  13. admin says:

    One part of the Fleet surfaces right outside my window every time it rains, Helen!

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