Favourite Bryant & May Book: The Verdict

Bryant and May



Thank you everyone who responded to my call, which asked you for a favourite Bryant & May novel to help me determine where I’m taking the series next. I’m very grateful for the help, and although the results were very varied they did point in a certain direction – and were not at all what I had expected.

First, my own personal tastes, which run like this; ‘Full Dark House’ was the third or  fourth time I’d used the characters but the first time I’d given them a book to themselves. The setting of the theatre worked well, the two-era plot was complex but not too hard to follow. ‘White Corridor’ (which hardly anyone voted for) was the simplest, purest and most fun to write, and has (for me at least) some terrific stuff in it. I do think the twist ending is clever, but the outcome of a murder mystery seems to be the least important part of the book, judging from your comments.

‘The Burning Man’ is topical and has my favourite ending, because I was able to make it funny and sad. ‘Strange Tide’ and ‘Wild Chamber’ are the pair with Arthur’s hallucinations, which I really enjoyed writing. I also think that both have good climaxes, especially the unusual opening and the lockdown in ‘Wild Chamber’, and Arthur and Maggie having to empty out their bags at the end. ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’ is my least favourite, for personal reasons involving its convoluted production.

So – you voted roughly in the publication order of the books, which worries me slightly and makes me wonder if I’m losing the plot (literally!) But then I suspect ‘Full Dark House’ came out as the most popular because it was the entry point for most readers. ‘The Water Room’ came up a lot, too. Lowest on the list were ‘On The Loose’ and ‘Ten Second Staircase’.



What am I to draw from this? Clearly that the faster, more rambunctious and chaotic books are preferred to the more toned and introspective ones. Simpler, more streamlined chains of events were favoured over the more complex plots. It seems you have a taste for mayhem, madness and murder – not surprising perhaps in a crime series. You also prefer ones in which characters are explored, rather than being fussed about who did it. I always say that readers remember the detectives and the set-up, not the criminal. The outlier here was Brooke, whose tastes came closer to reflecting my own.

As writers develop they always move away a little from the things that first attracted readers, because of the need to grow and experiment. In a way, I don’t have to do that because I have my other more experimental novels, like ‘Plastic’ and ‘The Sand Men’.

How to reconcile the two things you liked best in Bryant & May – the busier, faster, but more streamlined plots?

I’ve been thinking about this. The first book I’m going to present to my publisher based on this research is not going to put the PCU at risk of closure, but it will present them with their busiest-ever week, and take them all over London. The cases they tackle will be easier to unravel but will still cause a lot of grief. There will be two personal surprises involving the characters. I’m about to start work on a killer opening murder.

The second volume will be a new collection of cases. About the third and fourth books, haven’t a clue. I’ll shamelessly mine you for thoughts a bit nearer the time. Those four will take us to 2022, presuming I’m not dead by then. If I am, watch the BBC finally stump up for a TV series!

27 comments on “Favourite Bryant & May Book: The Verdict”

  1. Jo W says:

    Not what you expected Chris? Well, you asked the question and discovered just how varied are your readers. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all thought alike? 😉

  2. Martin Tolley says:

    The stories and the settings and people and plots are so varied – just keep surprising us.

  3. Adam says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the perception that readers preferred the earlier books. I think that you are correct that it is more to do with the first one that was read resonating with the reader, a bit like your favourite Dr Who or Bond (Tom Baker and Roger Moore rule!).

  4. cheltenham says:

    Didn’t you say on this blog a year or two ago that you were done writing Bryant & May books? I’m not a regular reader so I may be thinking of something else, or perhaps your publisher convinced you otherwise. I believe you said the last book would be The Burning Man, so I was quite surprised to see then that you had written two more books since (Strange Tide and the companion London’s Glory) and are planning several more.

    I’ve read all the regular B&M novels and most of them are quite good, but there are a few that I didn’t like much. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which ones, because like you said, the detectives are memorable, but the criminals aren’t. All the stories seem to blend together.

  5. admin says:

    Then, dear Cheltenham, read some of my other non-crime books – God knows there are enough of them to choose from! BTW it wasn’t my publisher who convinced me to carry on – I found new things to do with the characters.

  6. cheltenham says:

    I’ve read the descriptions and reviews and a lot of them sound like horror stories or thrillers. The books I like belong to only a few genres—and neither of those are on the list. Your other books might be good, but I’m quite set in my ways.

  7. Chris Webb says:

    Was intending to comment on your previous post but didn’t get round to it before you announced the result. My favourite is Full Dark House – sorry! Might just be because it was the first I read, but I did like the theatre setting. They are mysterious places where you always think the main drama is happening off stage. Another favourite is London’s Glory, so I am glad you have more short stories in the pipeline. Maybe you could ask Keith Page to do some more drawings?

    I’d also like to see more graphic novels. Yours is quite literally the only one I have ever bought, or am ever likely to buy unless you knock out any more.

    I would like to see Arthur Bryant explored a bit more. What makes him tick? How does his mind actually work? Despite being bluff and down-to-earth he is a actually a deep and enigmatic character.

    Notwithstanding the above, you really need to tell us about The Thing the Daves found in the basement. It’s been dragging on for what, three, four books now? I know you told us “what” it was at the end of the last book so I assume all will be revealed next?

  8. Wild Edric says:

    Thrilling certainly, with elements of horror in some cases. I suppose there’s a desire to pigeonhole authors – Mr Fowler possibly suffering in the early days with the horror tag.

    Cheltenham – it’s a shame you’re quite set in your ways – if I stuck to my favourite genres I’d never discover such delights as Andrew Miller’s Pure, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and David Benioff’s City of Thieves. Stuck for a book in a charity shop with slim pickings I picked up these at one time or another and was pleasantly surprised.

  9. Steveb says:

    Polls such as this are dangerous because they over-emphasise people who answer polls (and read blogs)…
    White Corridor is one of my favourites, so please dont underrate that style, if you ask for the favourite you miss out on the second favourite. Hell Train is a bit the same and I also enjoyed that very well.
    Disagree: A strong villain is always memorable, also when the mask is removed. I think maybe you put too much love into the PCU characters to create a really strong villain in the B&M series,

  10. Brian Evans says:

    I would rather be surprised by what is in your mind, rather than you be led by your readers. I like the B&M books all equally (haven’t read Wild Chamber yet) followed by your 2 autobiogs.

  11. Peter Tromans says:

    Dear Chris,
    Enjoying what you do is essential to success. Many would reasonably argue that is success. Ignore the opinions and suggestions of your readers unless they coincide with your own ideas. Write what pleases you. In the long run, it will deliver the stories that please us most.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    I really did not like White Corridor at first but the second and third readings changed how I feel. I wonder if I should reread every book I don’t like to see what happens.
    I agree that you should write what you enjoy. What is the purpose otherwise? There are enough of us working at jobs we don’t like so you might as well do what you enjoy doing.

  13. admin says:

    Couple of points; I felt that Mr Merry was a great villain and may bring him back.
    Glad someone liked White Corridor.
    Thanks, Wild Edric, for the recommendations (I loved Pure).
    All good advice here. I’ll add to Arthur’s story but I think people are fundamentally enigmatic (look at Katie Hopkins, apparently a nice person to meet but hatefully deranged). Great advice from Helen – ‘do what you enjoy’ – it’s a dream for most people and I’m lucky I turned it into a reality.
    Finally, that basement will be explored in full!

  14. Jan says:

    Sorry Chris been busy. Quick turnover for post! Think Water Room. I reckon the the back drop to the story the London Topic you are covering makes such a lot of difference. (Well it does for me anyway.)

    White Corridor + the next one obvious exceptions.

    Just a thought wot if u write the next next one in a different way? I mean let Mr Bimsley tell the story as he sees it for a chapter or two -his part of the investigation – the actions he is allocated his report submitting his set of results. The move on to Janice as she feeds his submission into the computer system and is reassessing where they have reached and reallocates work to the teams. Then Meera or another character could take over. It could then go up to the old boys or the boss for next part of the story. Just a thought but it could be a useful device to say move forward Colin and Meeras relationship. This could also incorporate the new character Miss Vesta in the books (and see who she matches with. Sorry could not resist.) Doesn’t need to be stuck to religiously or you will tie the tale up in knots but by swopping the narrative round you give insights into the characters and build tension because one partnership walks into trouble that another team over time becomes aware of and needs to communicate.
    Other authors have done something similar but covering years worth of narrative and I think there was an element if this in “Strange Tide” to do it in a much shorter timeframe – the period of a murder investigation or multiple murder investigation could be interesting. Think I might have put forward this idea b4.

    Hope all well.

    I sent you some stuff about London’s Wells, streams and other waterways a bit back (Remember much of the south London railway system is actually built on the old canal ways. Part of the area around Victoria is largely an old canal basin where I think there’s a massive rubbish depot! Or there was – it’s probably a new valuable development area now) pretty sure there’s enough of a topic there to backdrop a novel. Or What about this Cross Rail project have u watched the Fifteen billion pound railway? Then there’s Crossrail 2 when they have swept up after this one. Crossrail 2 is amazing in its ambition.

    Best be off.

  15. Ford says:

    I enjoy the whole series; each entry having it’s merits. My favourite? The one I’m currently reading! What I like is the humour, which is pitched just right; the London trivia (fascinating); and the characters. The danger in asking the readers/fans what they want to see is …. we’ll tell you! We are (to use that horrid word) “stakeholders”, but the tail shouldn’t wag the dog. You’re the captain of the good ship B&M! Stick to the basic formula, without getting formulaic; and, experiment around this, to keep both us and yourself interested

  16. LAM says:

    I’ve been reading the series in order, and The Water Room was when I knew I was going to be a lifer with Bryant & May. It also contains one of my favorite lines, “Sudden prayers make God jump.” (As a poet, I do get obsessed from time to time with random individual sentences or phrases.) I also liked The Bleeding Heart, The Invisible Code, and The Victoria Vanishes quite a lot, but the last may just have to do with very sensibly liking pubs. And Rune was a late, mad love discovery. She sez, after the voting is over, because she missed it.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    I like Jan’s suggestion, although as she says you don’t want to stick to it too tightly and there could be break ins of normal narration even by the Daves. Now there’s a thought – one of those short stories we’ve been talking about told by the Daves. I’m giggling just thinking about it. Sorry, this isn’t actually a group think session, is it?

  18. Ollie says:

    Hello Chris, I’m Italian, and a dear friend of mine from the UK introduced me to B&M a few years ago. I’ve bought and read the whole series (praise be to ebooks! Now even we totally blind people can access books without having to scan them, or revert to audio at all costs.).
    I love the whole series, and find the different aspects of London you bring forward in each book very, very interesting. My favourite setting was that in The Water Room, because I particularly enjoyed the way you described London’s rivers and underground waters. The only thing I found a bit repetitive lately, was the continued attempt to close down the PCU. It took away some “salt” from the stories themselves, in my opinion. Please, don’t stop bringing us B&M stories! I’ve grown to love those characters, and every year I look forward to the new book more than I do for Christmas… Thanks for your precious work. Please, forgive my English; I’m not a native speaker, but I hope what I wrote makes sense. Ciao, Ollie

  19. admin says:

    Well Ollie, your English is astoundingly good! I deliberately had the PCU on the verge of closure because it’s a trick you find a lot in all kinds of English fiction. As a child I read ‘Jonah’, in which a man sank a different boat every week, and loved the variations – so perhaps that’s why I kept doing it, leading to a kind of massive crisis in ‘Wild Chamber’. But I’m not doing it for the next few books, so you’re OK!

  20. Jill Hutchinson says:

    What you have here is a group of die-hard, avid fans of the PCU books, so is it important to know which book each of us liked best? I would imagine we are all looking for something different……devious and impossible plots, colourful villains, London history, interaction between the detectives and the Unit members, Arthur’s latest theories, and humour. The books have it all so you just keep writing them and we will continue to read and enjoy them!

  21. Sarah griffin says:

    It seems the largest vocalists are for B and M who enjoy the romp and the pace. From reading the B and M series I went on to read Paper boy which had a different pace and texture altogether which left me with my mouth open in thought while washing up. “Cheltenham” please use all the avenues and links sparked by the books you may be surprised where you end up but enjoy the journey. For me I want to know more about what makes Bryant and May tick as they are becoming complex characters with pasts and secrets I personally would a little bit emotional striptease of these two chalk and cheeses boys.

  22. Rebecca Coday says:

    Crippen is my fave, perhaps Crippen can be used to mysterious-clue-solving effect down in the basement?

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, Rebecca, what a great idea! Combine Crippen with the Dave’s narration?

  24. Anne says:

    Just want to say I love your books and of course I read every B&M but I thought Sand men and nyctophobia were brilliant and Id live to see more like them.

  25. Paul Fish says:

    The series tends to be a conundrum for me. The fast paced stories keep me reading well into the night just to see what happens next. The introspective, information packed stories allow me to contemplate living in a city I have never visited and makes it seem I have been there all along. My empathy is for both main characters; some days I am an old guy striving to stay young and other days I am an old guy just seeming to hang on. Like me, are Bryant and May the same old dude with different outlooks at different times? Hopefully the “old dudes” will live long and mostly happy lives. Keep the stories coming Chris.

  26. Nancy says:

    The B&M book that grabbed me hardest was “Victoria Vanishes.” Bryant’s speech at Oswald’s wake was hilarious and topped everything in the series to that point, Imo. Ever since, they’ve kept getting better. The last few have been terrific, right on up through Strange Tide.

  27. Deddajay says:

    I missed the poll, but I have to say I love all the books, there’s something new in every one, and I’ve discovered so many fascinating facts about London along the way. I also love the humour, and Bryant is one of my all time favourite literary characters. I also have to fess up to being the one who introduced Ollie to B&M several years ago.:)

    Please keep on writing, I will be happy whichever direction you go in.

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