Bryant & May And The Missing Genre

Bryant and May

Bleeding Heart: No Type

‘Choose one style of writing and stick with it,’ I was told many years ago by an editor. Naturally I ignored her and continued to plough a lonely furrow between every possible known genre, starting with my very first fiction novel ‘Roofworld’ (SF? Fantasy? Urban Drama? Thriller? Satire?) through ‘Spanky’ (Thriller? Satire? Bromance? Supernatural?) to ‘Plastic’ (Chick Noir? Female Empowerment? Adventure? Satire? Comical-Pastoral? – oops, sorry, ‘Hamlet’ joke there). With the Bryant & May series I knew what I wanted to write – Golden Age mystery in the modern world. And that was it, the strapline.

I can’t do dumbed-down and I don’t like procedural crime unless it’s very very good. I very much admire the outrageous style of Lee Child, the atmospheric prose of Ann Cleeves and the balls-out gutsiness of Val McDermid and there are also a couple of authors I hate, especially (REMOVED) and (REMOVED) so I know where I stand as regards to influences and tastes, but I also know I’ll only ever be an acquired pleasure unless I cut out all the humour, which I don’t want to do.

This creates a problem; whenever I’m put on a festival panel it’s often with humour writers because festivals simply don’t know where to place me. Which leads me to the realisation that the Bryant & May books exist in a non-existent genre, a sort of crime with serious stuff and funny asides thing. I’d be happy to be filed under Crime: Mystery and have done with it.

Separate of the Bryant & May books I’m currently finishing a psychological thriller that still has no title, and the twist here is that I’ve not allowed myself to make a single joke in the book, just as a test of my own strength. At the same time I’m thinking about another crime series of a far more strait-laced nature – I know there are a handful of fans out there who actually like the funny parts of the novels, so the question is; should I change what I do to fit the market, or continue doing what I like and let the readers find me? An abstruse dilemma, I know, but one which may alter my career.

Meanwhile, I can confirm that ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’ will feature eleven or twelve missing cases from Arthur’s files, along with special features and even a cutaway diagram of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and will be in stores on November the 5th, along with the paperback version of ‘The Burning Man’ (see what we did there?)


19 comments on “Bryant & May And The Missing Genre”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    It took me a wee while to get Lee Child’s Reacher settled in to my head until I realised they were Westerns. The drifter blows into a lonely town, corrupt sheriff, evil cattle baron, local plucky girl. There’s a showdown. This doesn’t mean I don’t like them, far from it I’ve read and enjoyed them all. Less so the last set in London. Even Tom Cruise didn’t spoil them for me, but then Pat Roach isn’t around nowadays.

    So I suppose what I’m saying is that as a reader too we classify into genres. What Reacher and our John and Arthur have in common is that they are of themselves, they occupy their own little genres. Sure, the Reacher books are westerns and Bryant & May are mysteries but they define themselves. That, and both are character driven, and the characters too *are* driven. They want to do what they do, No reluctant alcoholics cursing the job they do. Not that Reacher has a job. Also both sets of novels feature outsiders.

    Also, you know, well written 😉

  2. Gaz says:

    Please don’t change. It seems to me that your sense of humour is part of who you are. If you’re not careful you end up like those actors who slowly erase all the bumps and quirks from their appearance in order to conform to some narrow idea of beauty. I have a lot of Leslie Charteris’ Saint novels and short stories. The early ones are cherishably odd, with a decidedly eccentric hero and some laugh-out-loud stories. Even before he handed over to ghost-writers, Charteris seemed determined to smooth out all of the quirks from his character in order to fit into the more conservative American market. The result was that he achieved success in the US market, but at the cost of his individuality. Posterity doesn’t do you any good now, but if you can afford not to, staying true to yourself would be better.

  3. Vivienne says:

    I’m all for eccentricity and quirkiness. Do readers fit into categories? I hope I could be termed omnivorous as regards books. And, just off the top of my head, what about Robert Louis Stevenson? Treasure Island is usually thought of as children’s book, but he wrote serious stuff, ghost stories, travel books and The Wrong Box which is one of my favourite comic novels ever (I know this was a collaboration, but still). I bet he wasn’t told to stick to one category. So I’d agree with Gaz, don’t change.

  4. Dave says:

    It may sound strange but I would group Bryant & May with the Discworld series. Both are different, brilliant, engaging, humorous and quirky with a wonderful set of characters.

    As regards your ‘conundrum’, do what you like, your readers will find you. Be true to yourself and the quality will out.

  5. Jo W says:

    I suppose in the end it is up to you which way to go,Chris. You do the work after all. But I love those little touches of humour that sometimes breaks the tension in a storyline. You always seem to add just the right amount of ‘comic relief ‘

  6. Jo W says:

    P.S Loved Burning Man.

  7. Rachel says:

    Over the past few weeks I’ve been rereading all of Bryant & May, and have now reached The Burning Man (again). I must say, the touches of humour are among my favourite parts of the series. For instance, John May just described himself as a ‘grey icon’, which cracked me up. Please don’t change.

  8. J. Folgard says:

    Looking forward to ‘the Burning Man’ paperback and very happy to know ‘London’s Glory’ is forthcoming! I enjoy genre a lot, but there’s a group of writers I follow pretty much everywhere because I like their “voice”… It’s a shoddy way of saying it but I can’t find a better one! I enjoyed your early novels and, despite not being a huge crime fan, trusted you enough to read Bryant & May, who became favourites. And I love your current output with Rebellion/Solaris too! So I’ll just join the chorus and say, just trust yourself. Cheers-!

  9. Kathleen S says:

    No, no, don’t change! At lest the Bryant and May series. I read for the humor, the arcane bits of information, and the personalities of the characters. I found your books by chance which is the way I’ve found most authors I really enjoy. I think it’s apt that you occupy the unclassifiable sector of good writing. Stick with it, stand out from the crowd, it’s where you belong!

  10. AC says:

    I just finished listening to “The Burning Man” and I had to fight not to cry at the last. I’m glad there will be a collection of stories about the missing cases because I just can’t see myself without the PCU to entertain me with it’s bizarre cases and it’s even more bizarre characters. On a tangent, will there ever be another Bryant and May graphic novel? “The Casebook of Bryant and May” was terrific and the characters were drawn pretty much as I had pictured them while reading although I confess I never pictured Longbright with big hair.

  11. agatha hamilton says:

    I bet there are a lot more than ‘a handful of fans’ who like the funny parts of your books. As others have said here it’s so much a part of your writing that it would be an awful pity to lose it, and if you consciously change how you write to fit a perceived market, it will never work, will it? Please go on writing as you do now. You are your own genre.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I really enjoy the humour, but as Jo said, you do the work. I’m just nicely into The Burning Man and enjoying it so far – worried about the ending. It took a while to get to me because it was mistakenly sent to Australia.

  13. keith page says:

    I have to stick to a fairly strict format with Commando Comics so I enjoy working on my own eccentric stuff even more.I would say stay with your own unique style wherever you can.By the way, Simon should have the cutaway by now

  14. DebbyS says:

    The idea of changing your style to attempt to fit a particular genre is horrible, don’t do it. (Surely you’re kidding?). But then I’ve always had a horror of the idea of pigeon-holing people.

    I don’t actually think you are so isolated in your crime-with-a-touch-of-humour writing. I have no wish to insult you by bracketing you with those you may or may not admire, but authors like Susanna Gregory, Kate Atkinson, Reginald Hill (especially the Joe Sixsmith books), and R D Wingfield come to mind just for starters. Give me time and I’m sure I can add to the list.

  15. London history mysteries…. You’re welcome ☺

  16. Daphne says:

    I love this style of writing, for me it’s 21st century meets period drama.

    I rely on audio books and Tim Goodman has the measure of the characters to perfection. Thank you for giving me hours of pure literary pleasure.

  17. Daphne says:

    PS… I wonder that Anthony Horowitz hasn’t made a TV series of the Bryant and May books.

  18. admin says:

    Keith and I would love to do another graphic novel but there remains the problem of getting crime readers to cope with ‘comics’ in the UK…
    I still haven’t heard the audio book – I was never sent one!
    And don’t get me started on Anthony Horowitz…

  19. Peter Yearsley says:

    If you can making a living doing what you like, stick with that path. If you want to be rich, tailor yourself to the market.

    I started reading the Bryant and May books because one of my friends gave me Paperboy, as I was born not far from Greenwich .. and I liked the sound of the Bryant & May books when they were mentioned there.

    … and I’ve just finished The Burning Man. That little prickle behind the eyelids! Thanks for these novels, Chris. I’m looking forward to more.


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