Politics And Mr Bryant

Bryant and May

B&M 16 WC

Like all authors, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I read some of my Amazon reviews, and the other day one surprised me. A reader said she was going to stop reading the books because Arthur Bryant was ‘a mouthpiece for (my) politics’.

It’s surprising for three reasons; first, nobody really knows what my politics are because it’s not something I talk about. Second, Bryant is a fictional character. Third, Bryant happens to be a humanitarian Londoner who believes in education, fairness and basic decency.

But I take this sort of thing seriously. As she was talking about ‘Wild Chamber’ I picked up a highlighter and tried to find the offending sections that had caused her to drop the book in horror.

Never try to find clues in your own work because you’ll be too blind to them. When you live with the prose over many many months you cease to see it anymore. Maybe the part that caused her to shrink away from the page with her fist at her mouth was where the businessman lost his job and became a rough sleeper, or where the park was the subject of a privatisation scheme. I hope not, because like most of the other plots in Bryant & May books, both of these elements were carefully researched from ongoing cases in London newspapers. In fact, they’re so fresh that they’re still ongoing after the novel has appeared.

As well as taking the plots from today’s headlines, I de-fang them a bit by removing the more strident political elements from the news stories, because these are mystery novels, not political tracts.

StrangeTideUKThen a horrible thought hit me. Had she muddled the books? Was she referring to the refugee-on-the-make character in ‘Strange Tide’? Did she in fact think I was a UKIP-voting anti-immigration writer? While I do keep politics at a very low level in the stories, that would be where I draw the line.

As a Londoner like Bryant, my job has never been threatened by an immigrant crowding me out of my home and my rights, although I appreciate that there are those who deeply feel the country has suffered. But most Londoners are aware that what the rest of the country has suffered from is government neglect, ‘managed decline’, abandoning the North and pockets all around the country to fend for themselves, and I do feel very angry that people were so easily diverted to the wrong targets.

I have wonderful friends around the country who find themselves barely able to earn a living wage because of across-the-board party politics that have either mismanaged funds through incompetence or deliberately allowed their towns to fail in order to line their own pockets. And the danger is that if my detectives explored the rest of the UK the series would become genuinely political. Because the one target I have consistency attacked is government-level and council-level corruption. Without that grain of grit and truth, the books would become cosy little Agatha Christies. And that’s not somewhere I’m prepared to go.

14 comments on “Politics And Mr Bryant”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    “Did she in fact think I was a UKIP-voting anti-immigration writer?”

    In Burning Man you describe them as a “ragtag group”, so no! 🙂

    Unfortunately the country has recently divided into two camps, each side believing the other doesn’t even have the right to think, let alone speak. “Coming together?” Wake up Mrs May.

  2. admin says:

    I think more Londoners see both sides than non-Londoners give them credit for sometimes, because they travel around the country more. Whereas I have friends in the North who have never been to London at all…

  3. Lynchie says:

    I’m a Scot who visited London many times between 1970 and the mid 1990’s, and even stayed there for a while in the early 1970’s. I found it to be not so much a city as a series of large towns, each with its own character. As a former newspaper reporter, I think it’s extremely difficult to write objectively, because no matter how fair and even-handed you try to be, you will always have inbuilt prejudices garnered from your own life experiences and I imagine the same goes for writers of fiction as well as fact. There are a few UK crime books I’ve read over the past decade which have read that were like op-ed pieces from the Daily Mail. I’ve never felt overwhelmed by any sort of politics in the Bryant & May series although, thankfully, both main characters and the rest of the PCU seem to me to be people who care about London and its people.

  4. Brooke says:

    Admin: Amazon has thousands of reviews from trolls (people who are just bad reviews; I don’t know if they are paid to do this through Amazon Turk or some other platform). I have come across many such comments. typically women who object to “bad language,” “sex,” or anything else that relates to actual human behavior. They are indeed Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ellis Peters chick-lit fans. Ignore them or hit the “no” button where asked “was this review helpful.”

  5. Chris Webb says:

    I tracked down the review and it doesn’t appear to be “trollish”, nor does it appear to be “UKIPite”, but she does not go into detail about what specifically put her off. I would never have thought of Arthur expressing his opinions as anything other than background information on his motivations for his work, and would certainly not regard them as Christopher Fowler getting on his soapbox.

    There are large numbers of people who see political bias everywhere, particularly in the BBC, but also, it seems, in crime novels.

    While searching for the review I found this:


    It’s a version of Wild Chamber due out in December, same cover picture but different lettering, 448 pages instead of 404, and £21.51 instead of £16.99. I expect it’s a revised edition with lots more political propaganda. 🙂

  6. JackieHayles says:

    Fictional stories have to have some sort of context if they are to ring true – a novelist reflects the reality he lives in and the time and place in which he finds him/herself. This is as true of Scandi-Noir as it is of writers like Michael Dibdin or Donna Leon, of Dickens or of Shakespeare. I recently watched a 1989 interview with Wes Craven and the naivety of the audience was shocking – since the Internet and the massive growth in media, nobody surely can live in a vacuum? Comments about the privatisation of parks, for example, are true of the country as a whole, as greedy councils seek to earn some money from public property. That isn’t a political statement on my part either, just fact. I am looking forward to the next Bryant & May and long may they continue to delight (and enlighten) us.

  7. Brian Evans says:

    The theme running through the B and M’s is fair play, both in the plots and within the character’s minds and demeanors. What is political about that?

    However, within Admin’s blogs, whilst he doesn’t give away who he votes for (apart from the Euro referendum), he does give the impression of an anti-Conservative bias. I’m glad to say!

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I think the characters’ concern for the city in which they live is what draws many readers. Remember the illegal immigrants who were “released” in the Water Room? You could see what a hopeless situation they were in and certainly there was no great harm done by giving them a chance to make a life for themselves.
    We’ve been following the fate of the Canadian family that moved to Scotland, started up a shop/cafe and were told by the Home Office that unless they hired two full time employees they would be deported. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how useful a business is, how much the local people support it, it’s two full timers or you’re out. That’s the sort of thing that Bryant doesn’t approve of. He seems to want to look the applicant in the eyes, look at what he’s doing, what the effect is and judge it that way. I suppose the Home Office is looking at the entrepreneurial immigrant as solely a job creator, the minimum being two full time jobs.
    Anyway, Bryant is all for fairness and humanity, a grumbly cuddly …oh dear, I’d better make a cup of tea and settle down.

  9. Lorraine says:

    Admin. I gather your Northern ‘friends’ do not read this blog then, as your inferred comment about them is , to my eyes, offensive. Have you actually asked them why they have never been to London?

    Great blog, till the politics and dodgy comments crept back in.

  10. Brian Evans says:

    Helen, what has happened to your friends is appalling, and on behalf of a lot of Brits, I’m so sorry.

  11. Peter Tromans says:

    My impression is that Mr Bryant and his creator are rather open minded, a condition that immediately puts them both at odds with 90% of the world.
    For sure, much of the colour and context of what we see around us is provided by us rather than the material we are looking at. It is too often true of some readers who seek only to reinforce their own ideas. If they find one point, possibly completely factual, that doesn’t coincide with their prejudices, they are ready to condemn an author as leftist, rightist or whatever partiality is opposite to their own.
    My advice is to ignore such strong opinions. Would you really want to please anyone who condemns so easily?

  12. John Griffin says:

    Writing as a very political person, I’d found Arthur to be a liberal humanitarian counterposed against John’s harder aspect. Brian Evans comment about ‘fair play’ is exactly on the mark. There is factually-based commentary on politics and shenanigans of business, especially where there has been amoral behaviour. I guess if you are one of those who sees lefties under the bed or someone who prefers cosies, then a bit of reality in your whimsy might be disturbing.

  13. Lynchie says:

    If I can add to Brooke’s comments – I belong to the goodreads.com site and have recently noticed an increase in the number of threads about crime books being “too violent” and in one case, a murder story being “too gory”. You have to wonder about the mentality of people who post such nonsense. Surely they read the blurb before they buy a book? If they buy a book about a serial killer, what do they expect? It seems to me that these people have an agenda of some kind – whether it’s political or religious, I’m not sure – which I find unsettling.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Lynchie, these readers want everything sanitized the way it is done for tv. Dead bodies are not awash in blood (generally) or we just get glimpses with the camera focusing on horrified police faces. The violence is more referred to than seen and the details come out in the interrogation room. These readers don’t want it realistic, they want it Christified. If we were truthful we would admit that we don’t want to read pages of blood soaked details either but we do want an approximation of reality. If we were actually fascinated by violent death we’d all be either serial killers or pathologists. Cosy, peaceful murders don’t really happen and if the details are offensive then find another book. As you say, read the blurb before buying. I don’t think there’s actually an unconscious plot unrolling out there to remove reality based fiction from the market.

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