Bryant & May Are Stepping Out Into The City


When it came to positioning the next Bryant & May book, I and the Transworld team faced a dilemma; ‘Bryant & May’s Peculiar London’ is neither a novel nor a collection of short stories, but it has all of the characters you’d expect in a B&M adventure.

Nor was it a guide book. Its contents are impossible to catalogue and its tone is conversational rather than instructive. In fact, I’d argue that this is the least instructive book ever published on London. It may well be a book of London banter. The detectives chat with staff members and friends, arguing about everything from hangings to hauntings, and sometimes they slip away to the pub.

When I’d finally compiled it, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d written. My agent hit the nail on the head; ‘It’s just like a normal Bryant & May novel without the complicated plot bits!’ I love a good complex plot but sometimes you need a break. Although it appears light and chatty, writing it pretty much took two decades. Each time I added another murder mystery to the canon I saved my research notes.

But how to define the look of it? First we agreed to format the book exactly as the others are formatted so that they look good together on a shelf. I can’t tell you how annoying it was to try collecting every volume of ‘The Fosdyke Saga’ and find that Volume Eleven is in a completely different format (and completely unobtainable, will pay good money etc).

I had in mind a vague Mary Poppins-y feel to the cover, but my first idea, bravely attempted by artist Max Schindler, created scale problems and looked a bit too frivolous.

Max and I felt that as Mr Bryant’s brain jumbles up London, it didn’t matter too much whether the city’s landscape was accurate so long as it reflected how he saw it. Some cover ideas arrive fully formed and ready to go. The book is the length of a normal Bryant & May novel, and of course features Raymond Land’s traditional introduction.

For me ‘Peculiar London’ is the summation of a lifelong affair with the city that always pulls me back. There will hopefully be another volume the following year, a mystery that concentrates more on murder than history, because while it’s not definitive, ‘Peculiar London’ is pretty much my final say on the capital city. It arrives on July 14.



49 comments on “Bryant & May Are Stepping Out Into The City”

  1. Mary Ann Atwood says:

    Counting down th days to July 14th…

  2. Mary Ann Atwood says:

    Counting down the days to July 14th…

  3. BarbaraBoucke says:

    I know that I have to be patient and wait – but it isn’t easy. It’s almost April, so July isn’t quite so far away now!

  4. Stu-I-Am says:

    May be more symbolism to the cover than at first glance — at least for this reader. In one regard, the lads, and Arthur in particular, were always ‘above it all.’ Quite frankly, who could ask for more than an entire volume devoted to the asides and banter that give B&M one of its central enduring and endearing qualities. And don’t be so sure that ‘Peculiar London ‘ will be your ‘last word’ on the ‘Smoke.’ London doesn’t reveal its secrets to just anyone. When it finds a sympathetic medium, it generally finds a way to keep things going.

  5. Joan says:

    Super looking forward to this Chris! Just finished last B&M in February after sitting looking at it with anticipation for months. Not wanting it to be finished and done with too soon. Already have my order in for Peculiar London, something to look forward to along with sunshine and warm weather!

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    B&M try to solve their hardest case ever….London.


  7. Paul C says:

    Gorgeous cover. Really can’t wait to immerse myself in this book.

    Talking of the Fosdyke Saga, a lot of Bill Tidy’s original cartoons are available to buy from the Chris Beetles Gallery

  8. Corina Grigorescu says:

    Thank you for writing the Bryant and May novels: they are brilliant! I am from Romania and studied English and French at university. In high school I always looked at the covers of my English language textbooks because they had a drawing of the Thames in front of the Parliament and felt a little sad that I would never be able to visit London since the communists would not let us visit capitalist countries… now I live in Canada and my first visit was to London, after I read Peter O’Toole’s memoirs in which he describes his special love for London. That was in 1998 and since then every summer I have spent a month in London till 2014 ( mom got ill) and I still have not seen it all!

  9. Peter T says:

    Looking forward to this and next year’s volume. Aren’t there some pills to help you write faster and make B&M production match my reading speed?

  10. Bernard says:


  11. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Another fascinating cover. Looking forward to the book.

  12. Helen+Martin says:

    Definitely love this cover. That originally suggested one would be perfect for an action filled plot but with a book full of comments as it were the final decision is a perfect match – a stroll through the city. Now to order it.

  13. Jean DeMuzio says:

    Thank you, Chris. I love your B&M novels. I’m happy to know that you will be writing more with those characters. I’ve gone on more internet searches looking for pieces of London because of your B&M books. Happy to jump in to more London adventures with your next book, London’s Glory.

  14. Liz+Thompson says:

    I pre-ordered this the instant Amazon listed it. Which means I have been waiting for MONTHS already. It’ll be worth the wait though!

  15. jan says:

    It’ll be lovely Chris.

    The cover looks a bit Torville and Dean almost like the old lads are skating along the Thames. Also it threw me a bit that more of the south bank is featured here than the north!( Although where Max found that very large green open space adjacent to the Shard is a bit of a mystery in itself! Easier to paint than all them railway lines I suppose) This cover is though a bit of a mirror image of the normal view of the capital.

    I know I have been blithering on at you for ages about S of the river being in a sense the first Roman settlement after marching up from the S coast the Romans 1st settled in what would become Southwark and got started with that 1st bridge but its the S Bank which is settled first. Theres that Roman boat which was found beneath Guys Hospital (and is still in situ) which ran into problems in a shallow Thames tributary at low tide.

    I still think we make a real mistake thinking that London is their creation though.

    There were likely sacred spaces, henges, standing stones and circles in position and settlement(s) of the native population before long the Romans put in their appearance and create their Londinium.

  16. Stu-I-Am says:

    @jan jan, you’re right , of course. Small tribes roamed the area for millennia before Julius and the Legions showed up (and did not have a walkover — sound familiar ?). They were finally able to prevail and founded the city in 43 AD as the first substantial settlement at the location — but not the first settlement. Several structures have been discovered near Vauxhall Bridge, which predate the Roman occupation of Britain, including a large wooden structure of unknown function dated to c. 4000 BC, and a bronze age bridge dated to c.1500 BC.

    As you probably know as well, there is some question among the experts as to whether the Roman ‘Londinium’ originated with them. One theory is that it derived from the pre-Celtic ‘Plowonida,'(‘wide, flowing river’) which became ‘Lowonidonjon ‘ under the Celts and then eventually ‘Londinium.’ Another school of thought has it evolving from ‘Londinion,’ either the name of a Celtic chieftain or the Celtic word for ‘wild.’ Also possible,according to legend, is that a King Lud renamed the ‘New Troy’ settlement there ‘Ludien,’ — obviously an easy eventual step to ‘London.’ Since there are no written records (and no consensus), you are welcome to pick whichever theory you like — or come up a new one.

  17. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Jan – I found a couple of interesting old books on one of my many bookshelves – London River by Tomlinson 1929 and The Geography of the Port of London by Bird 1957. I will have to give them a read in between everything else! Sometimes I look at my rather eclectic collection of books and feel a bit like Arthur Bryant.

  18. Paul C says:

    They look interesting books, Barbara. I’ve got a similar strange old volume called the Seven Curses of London (1869) by James Greenwood which is almost as good as Henry Mayhew’s celebrated works.

  19. Debra Matheney says:

    Totally love the cover and can hardly wait. Sure to learn new th9ings about my favorite city, and be awed and amazed by
    your knowledge of it. Sure it will be the highlight of my summer. Thanks for writing all the B and M books.

  20. Kiaran says:

    Can’t wait!! I hope that Tim Goodman is going to narrate the audiobook! He’s the voice of B&M. Many thanks for this fabulous series.

  21. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Thanks Paul C. That book of yours is on Project Gutenberg ebook and can be read online. It looks interesting – especially in the area of the author’s perceptions about the problems that he saw as curses at that time.

  22. snowy says:

    Readers of London arcana might try digging around for:’Twice round the clock; or, The hours of the day and night in London’ by George Augustus Sala.

    Foreign correspondent, essayist, cartoonist, painter, publisher, [he also wrote a pornographic novel entitled ‘The Mysteries of Verbena House’. And later a pantomime that was such complete filth that even the full title* is not fit for general publication].

    Sala had a background that might now be described as complex, Granny was a Demerara freedwoman, Mother an opera singer that put it about a bit, [but neither woman would have been particularly remarkable in the society of the Georgian period].

    *[You can look that up for yourselves!]

  23. Jo W says:

    Chris, I’m so looking forward to your new book about my beloved London and July isn’t that long to wait. At my age it’s not months, more like a couple of sleeps and a blink of the eye.

  24. admin says:

    And so we go topic-wise from Torvill & Dean to filthy pantos. Much as the new book does!

  25. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Uh…which chapter has the filthy panto ? Asking for a friend.

  26. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Thanks Snowy! The Twice round the Clock book is on Google books, so I will give that one a read as well. When I am going to get all the reading done is beyond me, but it will happen.

  27. Porl says:

    Arrives in time for my birthday – how perfect!

  28. snowy says:

    I neglected the side note.

    Sala also wrote a book on the life, times and works of Hogarth. Though an exhaustive skim has failed to find any account the lengthy and Herculean struggles Hogarth had to find really, really oppressive furniture!

    He does rather dwell in the book on the public punishment administered to a character called ‘Kate’, but once you know Sala had a serious kink for ‘Spanky-Panky’ things sort of fall into place.

  29. Ken Chambers says:

    I’ve almost finished reading the Adam Dalgliesh novels and the Inspector Jury series by the American author Martha Grimes. In my local library I found White Corridor What a lucky find! I then found Strange Tide – lucky me again. I have lived in Canada since 1968, having been born in East ham in 1937 and prefer the English ‘whodunits.’ In your case, I really appreciate the lack of coarse language. I can never fathom the need to scatter those words through a novel like confetti. I am able to request books from other Ontario libraries if my library doesn’t have them, so I will be starting your Bryant & May series(just love those names) from the beginning. Thanks for the information on London that I never knew before. I now live in Brighton Ontario, a small town on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

  30. My copy of ‘London Bridge’ just arrived (I’d already ‘read’ it in audio format, but now I can try my hand at reading it in physical form too), so I have that to keep me occupied, but July is still so far away! It’s a good thing I’m broke, so would have to wait anyway.

  31. Gammyjill says:

    I don’t really care what it’s about or how it’s positioned, I preordered it. Anything about them is brilliant. But since I live in US, it won’t be published here til December. Poor us!

    By the way, the letters by Raymond are so much fun to read. Any chance of your publishing just the letters on your website?

  32. Helen+Martin says:

    Anna-Maria, the pages should turn quite easily but if they turn obstreperous you can always return to the audio version.

  33. Andrea Yang says:

    FYI Amazon says it will ship Dec. 6 in the USA

  34. Susan Drees says:

    I am so looking forward to this and imagining all the esoteric conversations of the series about the long history of London, in one place and multiplied.

  35. jan says:

    Stu yes its interesting looking a parts of obviously Pre Roman London. The site of the Tower of London the Norman “White tower” contains evidence of prehistoric tumuli. In fact historians are beginning to wonder how many Norman Mottes were in fact modified prehistoric tumuli. Now theres a thought about continued land use for defensive(?) or perhaps originally other purposes.

    Am running short of library time was going to write a bit about the medieval modifications to London Bridge which required the diversion of part of the Thames an absolutely fantastic enterprise that its difficult to believe actually took place ( but it did) in fact the works were supervised by a member of the clergy being the only way for intelligent men from non wealthy backgrounds to progress. this particular guy (whose name I have completely forgotten) is actually recalled in the name of a parish or parish church near on in the C of L. Imagine diverting the river into a canal an absolutely massive enterprise that I only found out about because of the legends around the Vikings gaining control of the City and digging a similar canal in south London

  36. Paul C says:

    Talking of canals, a fun fact : one of the labourers on the Panama Canal was Paul Gauguin.

  37. Stu-I-Am says:

    @jan Jan, could you be thinking of Peter de Colechurch ? He was Rector of St Mary Colechurch in the C of L which was destroyed in the Great Fire.

  38. snowy says:

    A quick squint at Stow’s Survey of London reveals something about a southern cut:

    …in the year 1016, Canute the Dane, with a great navy, came up to London, and on the south of the Thames caused a trench to be cast, through the which his ships were towed into the west side of the bridge, and then with a deep trench, and straight siege, he compassed the city round about.

    Of Peter Colechurch he says:

    Now touching the foundation of the stone bridge, it followeth:-
    About the year 1176, the stone bridge over the river of Thames, at London, was begun to be founded by the aforesaid Peter of Cole church, near unto the bridge of timber, but somewhat more towards the west, for I read, that Buttolfe wharf was, in the Conqueror’s time, at the head of London bridge.

    The king assisted this work: a cardinal then being legate here; and Richard, archbishop of Canterbury, gave one thousand marks towards the foundation; the course of the river, for the time, was turned another way about, by a trench cast for that purpose, beginning, as is supposed, east about Radriffe, and ending in the west about Patricksey, now termed Batersey.

    This work; to wit, the arches, chapel and stone bridge, over the river of Thames at London, having been thirty-three years in building, was in the year 1209 finished by the worthy merchants of London, Serle Mercer, William Almaine, and Benedict Botewrite, principal masters of that work, for Peter of Cole church deceased four years before, and was buried in the chapel on the bridge, in the year 1205.

    His style is a bit dry, but he also covers rivers, wells, wharfs and watergates which may be of some interest. The easiest way to find a free copy is to go to the John Stow page on Wikipedia and follow the ‘External links’.

    [Right, that done it’s time to get back to ‘Admiral Nelson’s Clockwork hat’.]

  39. jan says:

    Yes that the very man this Colechurch fella.

    I read somewhere or other that some gent in 18C I think but not 100% researching into “Canutes Trench” was approached by some geezer who worked at one of the south London docks who had found old plans showing this suspected Canutes trench in a dry Dock named something to do with Cows at some stage if I remember rightly and thought it was evidence of the gr8 Viking exploit. It turned out to be the trench created by Colechurch.

    When you think on it that’s a helluva thing what Colechurch planned – talk about a major civil engineering project for a non industrialised era.

    They never lacked ambition them lads

    This not having a tablet anymore is stopping me being so boring and wittering on at length. Its likely a big improvement and gives me much more time to study my horses for tomorrows big race. Thanks Snowy and Stu.

  40. snowy says:

    William Maitland is probably your ‘geezer’, in 1729 he received an account from John Webster a carpenter who worked on the construction of the Great Wet Dock in 1694, during which an old cut was revealed.

    [But then Hawksmoor and Wren dispute the whole idea of the Colechurch canal, asserting that the stone bridge was built on piles driven into the riverbed, which were then sealed behind masonry].

  41. Helen+Martin says:

    Jan, when we discussed this before wasn’t it decided that the Danes(?) had dug a canal to make London vulnerable? That the canal facilitated their taking of the city? The Colechurch canal was later (of course) but could it have been in the same place?

  42. jan says:

    I dunno that it was H and to be honest theres a likelihood of the Viking efforts being a case of “controlled” flooding the channel the Anglo Saxons witnessed being created being likely a device to let the waters be released from the Thames in order to flood S. of the river which was largely a massive marsh anyway – with the odd dry area of land within the marsh.

    The Vikings would or could carry their longboats( which did not have deep hulls ) and stroll about south of the river for a bit. Either as a distraction from another attack on the C of L or as a preamble to their own assault on the place.

    Down here in the West Country there was a very odd large rise in the sightings of “Dragons” in the 6 and 7 Cs and they reckon that these dragon sightings could have been down to locals seeing Viking longboat crews lugging their boats across country! The longboats hand detachable prows which were carved pretty much to look like sea monsters created as a sort of talismans to keep their boats safe on sea and ocean crossings.

    The Vikings/Danes normally detached these things about 3 miles from the land likely to make their boats less spottable but they would re attach them ( probably to a different part of the vessel) whilst the boats were being carried on land. Weird that is n’t it that? Up until the late 20C when lots of pubs were renamed- or just closed- there were more pubs named for Dragon in Somerset than anywhere in England and I think ( am not 100%) more than in Welsh Wales. Unless that is the Somerset cider making skills improved considerably in the 6 and 7 Cs and that explains the big increase pink elephants being as yet undiscovered by the wurzels.

    I think that Colechurches canal is the real thing I think that Webster produced the actual plan (He was the geezer Maitland was the gent!) I never knew that Wren disputed the Colechurch canal. Can’t remember if there were bills and plans kicking about anywhere in relation to this effort.

    Anyway on a much more important note. I have just been along to collect me National winnings! I saw that Waley Cohen amateur jockey on telly on the thurs when I had a horse placed on the 1st day of Aintree and he was on about retiring after the big race on Saturday. I was just watching him and thought he don’t look too upset about this retirement from racing lark and he was an amateur rider not a professional this was his big hobby and there was just something about him that made me wonder. I decided he was worthy of a small speculation. Just picked up me £50! wish I had invested more now. if I had twigged his dear old very wealthy dad had bought him a horse 6 or 7 weeks back just to run in the National I would have taken more notice.

  43. jan says:

    Hope alls good with you Helen and Mr. Snowy.

  44. snowy says:

    Hello Lady J, probably nothing that follows will be unknown to you, but I’ve typed in now so…

    What I kept coming back to was How much wood, would a Woodchuck chuck, if a Woodchuck; would chuck wood? ahem… the question of size. How deep would it have to be?

    The key piece of information I didn’t have was: how much water does a Viking boat need to float? This was pondered on for a long time, [long enough to press some cheese and make a Lardy cake]. A thought occurred, [while kneading the dough], this invasion and seizing of London is just about within a life span of the next more famous one in 1066, [and they share the same boat-building traditions].

    And while poking about the Norman fleet was fun, [for a given definition of fun], mixed fleet, some transports, some warships, some smaller, lighter ships &c. It didn’t get me directly to an answer. So I decided to go sideways into boat construction technology, and Bingo!

    In 1962 five Viking ships dating from 1030-1042 were found, having been sunk as part of a naval defensive blockade near Skuldelev. These were recovered and conserved in the ‘Viking Ship Museum’, [would have looked there first, had I known it existed, sigh…]. Well, these things would have floated in a deep puddle.

    Small warship [Boat 5]: 17.3 m long and 2.5 m wide with a crew of 30 had a draught of 0.6 m.

    Smaller inshore boat, better for penetrating up-river [Boat 6]: 11.2 m long and 2.5 m wide, crew of 15 had a draught of 0.5 m, [0.5 m is only about knee-deep, for those still using ‘old money’].

    Wren and Hawksmoor may have had a ‘hidden agenda’, [Litte Nicky H, being devious? Whouda thought!]. The reference apparently comes from a book written by Hawksmoor which has something to do with the construction of a new bridge at Westminster.

    [If they were pitching for the job they may have been flexible with historical accuracy if it would put money in their pockets, I’ve not found a copy yet, so can’t say for sure].

  45. jan says:

    Yes the real marvel of this is in a sense how good the Vikings sailing skills must have been. They cross oceans on what were in many ways ships not unlike rafts. A bit like the peoples of the south Pacific did when they set out from Hawai and started moving east and S.E.

    Snows have you heard about that weird crystal stone the Vikings were alleged to have used as a navigation aid ? That’s an odd little thing obviously the constellations at night and position of the sun in the day can be used in navigation but this crystal thingummy was supposed to supply a result in even cloudy conditions

  46. snowy says:

    Iceland Spar?

    I understand the optics behind the idea, polarising beam splitter produces two images that can be aligned to achieve equal brightness &c.

    But will admit to being at a loss to understand how useful it would be, except at dawn or dusk on cloudy days.

    A sun compass on the other hand makes sense, [provided it is constructed/calibrated for Latitude/Month].

  47. Helen+Martin says:

    Think about that preserved longboat in Denmark. It flattens so much that you can almost imagine it floating on wet grass. I get nods from across the room on the matter of the navigational stone. I can get my mind around a polarising crystal but using it is a little bothering.
    The husband is wanting to go to a model railroading gathering in WA state but the increase in Covid is disturbing and he hasn’t decided for sure yet. The exchange rate is not good right now either.

  48. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Sorry for the excessively long (and sloppy) link above. But that’s how the NYT apparently identifies a ‘freebie’ article.

Comments are closed.