And The 20th Bryant & May Will Be…

Bryant and May

The handsome paperback of ‘The Lonely Hour’ is out in the UK now, and I have copies to give away in a London treasure hunt, but sadly this is not the time to do it.

Hopefully the future schedule won’t change. In July the hardback of ‘Oranges & Lemons’ arrives, to be followed in November by the paperback of ‘England’s Finest’. At least, that was the schedule pre-apocalypse. I’m not sure where we stand if books are pulled. Somewhere in this mix I hope to find a buyer for ‘Summer Dies’, my stand-alone thriller. It took me ages to get it exactly right, and I’m dying to know what readers think about a thriller that deliberately removes a key ingredient, as this does.

For me, paperback publications – where the majority of my readership lies – are strange events, falling at least two years after I’ve put that book to bed. They’re also undersold by publishers, who put all of their PR efforts into hardback launches. There’s a tradition of press reviewers only reviewing hardbacks. This now feels like an ancient historical rite, and rather snooty, yet it’s still adhered to. I don’t put much store by print press because their reviewers tend to practice cronyism and many have a shockingly limited reading range. These days most of the best crime reviewers work for respected websites like Crimereads and Crimetime. I trust the Guardian for modern fiction and Sunday Times for historical/ factual books, but get the rest of my reading recommendations from specialist websites.

Before I embarked on the twentieth Bryant & May I wondered; how often can I use the same characters without wearing out the reader? Looking to the past, one can see that Sherlock Holmes starred in 56 stories and four novels, R Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke appeared in 40 short stories and 22 novels, Agatha Christie used Hercule Poirot in 33 novels, while her contemporary Gladys Mitchell used her detective Mrs Bradley in 66 books. Dorothy L Sayers only wrote 11 Lord Peter Wimsey novels, but Robert Van Gulik wrote 25 Judge Dee novels. Edmund Crispin managed nine Gervaise Fen novels and 42 short stories, and one of those was called, ‘We Know You’re Busy Writing, But We Thought You Wouldn’t Mind If We Just Dropped In For A Minute’. When it comes to totals Christie also wrote an additional 50 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, so she wins on volume.

These figures prove a key point in genre fiction; consistency is second to originality.

I keep refreshing the B&M formula and I have no plans to retire my characters. Volume seems important as readers develop a loyalty, but it also creates its own issues – critics generally stop reviewing you after the first book. I’ve been lucky with my reviews but it’s tricky finding the balance between providing familiarity and fresh surprises.

I could have some fun and play around with the formula, drop Bryant & May into different alternative takes on London, but when you start messing around with the things that work you risk damaging the whole. Lately I’ve noticed that the stories have been getting a bit epic, so after the twentieth I plan to scale them down and make them more human.

Which brings me to the twentieth, which will be called ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’. Some of you on his site know where I’ve been researching but I still plan to wrong-foot you with an unusual plot. Part of the challenge these days is outwitting regular readers.

24 comments on “And The 20th Bryant & May Will Be…”

  1. Richard Burton says:

    I wouldn’t start worrying until someone says, ‘you know what, I’m really sick of all these bloody Jack Reacher books.’ Or you have a Cargo of Eagles moment.

  2. Rob C. says:

    Richard, Even Lee child is sick of them and has retired the character!
    But there are dozens of other authors getting their ‘in search of Jack Reacher’ or similar books published, mainly selling for 99c or less on Amazon’s Kindle shop:-)

  3. Nick says:

    I avoid hardbacks and will only buy paperbacks. In my blinkered opinion, hardbacks are for libraries and shelf-snobs. The market could easily change if they adopt what the music industry has done: standard physical and electronic release (CD = paperback and download = Kindle or equivalent), with a simultaneous ‘special edition’ for the serious collector (fancy vinyl = hardback), which, naturally, costs more than double, but has a far more limited production run.

  4. Liz Thompson says:

    I’m afraid I buy hardbacks on publication of all favourite authors, I just can’t bear waiting for the paperback! Oranges and Lemons is, of course, on pre order. Hardbacks do take up more bookcase space, which helps to explain why I have 5 piles of books on tables. They are the overflow from the 14 bookcases. My daughter has had the temerity to claim one of those bookcases for her own collection, which disappoints me. How selfish!

  5. Ford says:

    Have you considered doing book from the perspective of other members of the Team?

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    Whatever you do, PLEASE leave Janice in the mix.

  7. admin says:

    Janice got her own investigation in England’s Finest. I should give Colin a story.

  8. Richard says:

    Rob C. No more Jack Reacher! I had no idea, oh well. Admin, please ignore my previous comment.

  9. Bernard says:

    This is probably not a reasonable request to make of such a creative, inventive, author, but PLEASE don’t change the B&M characters or explore their histories or develop their personalities. We love them the way they are and simply want to see them in new mysteries and learn more about London. Yes, and more Janice!

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    Christopher – if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.
    We love your characters, sense of place, situation and entertaining dialogue.
    I agree that the inability to get reviews published is a disgrace although there are a number of online mystery/detection review blogs.
    The answer is for you to murder someone, possibly a critic (a la Doctor Phibes) and get caught. Then wait for the national press expose and mega sales to follow. I can see headlines like: ‘Bryant & Mayhem’ or ‘Crime Writer Falls Fowler The Law’

    Just a thought.

    I’m starting to go a bit doolally during self isolation.

  11. Wild Edric says:

    “Shelf-snob”… hmm… I bought Full Dark House in hardback as soon as it came out because I was desperate to read it, same for the following few and by then it was too late to switch to paperback for fear of messing up my collection.

    Mind you, Mr Fowler is the only author I do buy in hardback. They’re not the easiest to hold when reading or for taking down the pub – if you can remember what one of those is!

  12. wayne says:

    I buy all the B&M books in hardback.

    True not your other titles which I get in PB.

    I am far from getting tired of the series, love each one.

    I have read all of your work and will continue to purchase your writing. I think we ( people who like a writer) need to support that writers experimentation and growth and give feedback when it doesn’t work.

    Please keep going, loving your work.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, fortunate to be able to order the books in hardback (although I don’t suppose it’s any larger return to the author) and am one of those in love with the smell of a new book. Paperbacks mostly smell as good, but still – a real book. They’re so much better for writing “to Annie as you leave for Antarctica – June 2010” you know the sort of thing – in purple ink with a Mitchell #4 nib.
    Looking forward to Oranges and Lemons and will preorder London Bridge soon. Just imagining what the USian editions will look like – fruit basket upset, probably.

  14. John Howard says:

    I’m with the majority of you here. Bryant & May are bought in hardback ‘cos quite a long time ago I couldn’t wait. I understand, from a reliable source, that hardback sales help publishers decide if a paperback is going to be produced. Oh yes, and whilst all of the team are essential Janice is a must.
    Oh and Peter, didn’t you know Time Out thinks Admin would make a good serial killer..? I wonder how many critics he has offed that we don’t know about.?

  15. Jo W says:

    Hardbacks for me too, for the same reason as Wild Edric.
    Helen, I agree, the smell of a new book is mmm. Like opening a fresh packet of tea, it’s just one of those aromas……

  16. Alan Morgan says:

    Is the queen sickly?

  17. Jan says:

    Ford is right do you remember those old 1970s and 80s Susan Howatch novels where different characters told a bit of a tale ……and then some other character of whom you were aware but had no access to the innermost feelings of took over becoming the narrator till you then understood what they were really about. I thought that was a great device. Someone tried something very similar on a US tv series back in the 1990s about 30 somethings I think

    To tell the story of an investigation like that could be a real eyeopener. Trust me the blokes financially investigating a set up have a very different perception from the lucky soul on the bins
    (No sorry let’s be posh receptacles!)

    The folk trudging round on house to house feel differently from lead statement takers, and video evidence gatherers …Arrest and search teams feel something different again.

    Be interesting.

    Or a whole story told by Meera or Raymondo could be interesting.

    Here Chris aren’t every author’s big pennies earned on paperback sales? Or do top best sellers sell more in hardback still? Just wondering.

    Why do they still do two separate printing sessions what’s it all about that really? Do they make a big deal about launching an e book…Trust me I would never know

    Wonder if that’s due for a change in post pandemic land.

    Hope everything’s tickettyboo with you.

  18. Jan says:

    See the namesake is still very popular then. I was just about to be asking where H was when she popped up with a comment…

    Just been dipping in and out a bit recently

  19. Ian Luck says:

    Nice picture of Lake Havasu. My brother went there a few years ago, and enjoyed a proper pint of beer in a nearby bar.

  20. Jan says:

    It’s London Bridge isn’t it?

  21. Wayne Mook says:

    Well if your going for long runs, Maigret was 75, Perry mason 82 (although 2 novels did come out after Gardener died.

    Corín Tellado although no long series is still the most published, over 4,000 title, some sources over 5,000, crikey how is that possible?


  22. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – It is indeed. John Rennie’s 1831 bridge. Oh, and the tale that the bloke who bought it thought he was getting Tower Bridge? It’s complete B/S., but people still churn it out as fact. Rennie’s bridge was replaced by the present bridge (opened 1973), as it was slowly sinking into the bed of the Thames.

  23. Heather says:

    I wait sort of patiently for the hardcovers to be released in the US. turns out to be a Christmas present to myself. have re-read probably half of the books during this quarantine so my brain doesn’t rot!

  24. Robin says:

    I’m from the States and am so impatient to read the latest B&M novels that I preorder the hardbacks from the UK. I primarily read everything else as an ebook (except for two other authors whose books I preorder from the UK.)

    Please keep the series going. Arthur is my hero! I love how the series is not formulaic and look forward to reading the differing styles of each new book.

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