Where Shall I Set The Next Bryant & May?

Christopher Fowler
Dear diary, this week was rather more up and down than I'd hoped for. I bounced back from a debilitating virus that had lingered since January only to be knocked over by a courier bike in Bloomsbury, and am now laid up with a torn thigh muscle. But I'm doing better than my freelance friends who are suddenly finding themselves without work because they're employed by US clients who have stopped travelling. The coronavirus (tragedy in the East, bizarre social panic in the West) has knocked out most of the international book fairs so publishers are coming up with ways of getting commercial life back to normal. Most US film premieres here have been cancelled, so pals of mine who've been working on the James Bond launch are suddenly unemployed. Meanwhile my thriller is finished and standing in the wings waiting to take flight. My 'Complete Short Stories' has yet to find a buyer (I may end up having to do it myself) and several other books are on the runway revving their engines. Next week I've been asked to provide my publisher with an outline for another Bryant & May novel. I have a plot in mind but have not settled on the locations for the book that provide it with atmosphere. It occurred to me that I should turn the question over to my advisory board ie. you lot, and see if there's anything in particular you feel I have overlooked. I thought about a story set in London's museums and art galleries, or in workplaces - I've covered churches, pubs, theatres, parks etc. Museums were touched on in 'Seventy Seven Clocks' and an office block was the setting of 'Breathe', the science fiction novel I wrote that I don't think anyone saw (mercifully - it was a simple transcription from a doomed screenplay). So I'm casting about for new locations and am considering Metroland.
All Bryant & May location suggestions will be considered in the good-natured spirit of argument!


Martin Tolley (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Don't think you've set anything in a sporting venue. Lots of football grounds and cricket venues, athletic stadia?

Christopher Fowler Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No, Martin, I haven't, partly because they tend to be a thriller cliché, but I'm not terribly excited about sport.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:33

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Metroland would be good.
Betjeman meets Psychoville, perhaps.

RH (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:38

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Canary Wharf? It's a strange place...

Jo W (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:27

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Oh dear, Christopher. A torn thigh muscle? I hope you got the cyclists details,oh,no, they're not registered, are they.:-(
Any more happens to you and we'll have to start calling you 'Lucky' Fowler. I hope your husband is looking after you and not force feeding you with all that confit?
Now then, a new location? Yes Metroland must have all kinds of horrible,nasty secrets behind the privet hedges, but 'im indoors has just suggested the Postal museum. He could imagine a body or too bundled up in an old mail bag,left on the little train or platforms down there. ;-)

Mike (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think I said this before, Leytonstone, links to Alfred Hitchcock and Jack the Ripper.
Walthamstow nearby had one of the first film studios in Britain.
Not enough for a whole book, maybe a chapter or two?

Christopher Fowler Sat, 07/03/2020 - 13:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Are you only suggesting 3 syllable places, Mike? Good idea, though and noted...
Jo, most of St Giles (I still call it that rather than the council's desperate attempt to make us call it NoHo) is cordoned off at the moment so everyone has to walk in the road. A cyclist clipped the corner, bit it was nobody's fault really. The result is that at the theatre last night I climbed the steps as if I was a member of the matinee audience.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 14:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Torn thigh muscle--you need a minder.
Sorry to hear about your colleagues' employment dilemmas. This too will pass, but not before our respective governing politicians have made total fools of themselves.

Are not plot and location intertwined--i. e. because locations, especially in London, have historical memories and peculiar energies, the story you have in mind will work in one place but not others. Perhaps you can give us a hint about parameters (in addition to "been there, done that").

We had this conversation in March and October 2019; Greenwich was highly favored. Metroland elicited negative remarks, although I agree that suburbia invites crime of the most horrible sort.

Canary Wharf has potential as part of the Isle of Dogs; so many international criminal elements, Deutsche Bank, KPMG, Barclays, HBSC, etc. are ensconced there. Within hailing distance of Greenwich, on the intersection of modern ley lines (transit stations) and the Thames does that weird meander thing.

davem (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 14:03

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I know you considered it before Chris, but what about Maritime London / London-by-the-Thames, particularly Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Southwark, Lambeth, etc .... an area you know well.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 14:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"I'm not terribly excited about sport."
All the more reason for you to write about it. We get too much about sports from sports enthusiasts of one sort or another.
Could you get into the stacks of the BL? A friend who worked there was going to show me round but nearly got sacked for it.

Peter Tromans (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 14:47

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David's suggestion of hospitals: Barts has a history going back to the 12th century when it was part of a monastery of the same name. I'm sure Mr Bryant would find something interesting. And, of course, our great friend Mr Holmes used its facilities for his experiments and made his first acquaintance with Dr Watson there.

Christopher Fowler Sat, 07/03/2020 - 14:55

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With your help I've narrowed it down to Canary Wharf, Greenwich and hospitals (shades of 'Green for Danger'), although I do have a good idea for suburbia, which I last tackled in 'Psychoville'.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 15:31

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There was a Greenwich and Deptford workhouse which later became a hospital. It's probably posh housing now.
I'm not sure I'd want to live in an ex asylum/ workhouse even if the housing was actually affordable, which it usually isn't.

Vic (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 15:59

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The mention of the postal museum reminded me of a book I read a very long time ago. It was 'Beneath the City Streets' by Peter Laurie. It is about secret goverment arrangements to counter civil unrest either homegrown or external and thus allowing the government to continue to govern (???). You may be aware of it but there are some interesting locations that may excite your creativity.

davem (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 16:05

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Greenwich and hospitals ... you can bring in the former St Alfege's hospital and the medieval St Alfege Church.

Laura Humphrey (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 16:49

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What about those strange areas way outside London, but they are actually owned by the City O London, sort of enclaves, High Beech .Ashtead Common etc

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 16:59

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Is there a tunnel linking Greenwich to Isle of Dogs--probably not as far as Canary Wharf, though? What fun Arthur can have!

Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 17:46

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Ooh! Tunnels! Tunnels/Greenwich/ hospitals. Hospitals would be really good because we all have a certain understanding (probably wrong) about how they work. If the tunnels were in connection with the Postal Museum that would be great. So, hospitals and postal tunnels. It sounds quite eerie and dangerous. Could Arthur be hit by a postal car and damage a thigh?

Jan (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 17:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Laura's right the City Liberties are really interesting. Right back into the medieval period the City was moving dirty industries out into Epping Forest. And the amount of places they own is eye opening. Think a bit of Harrow Wealds Common was the property of the City.

But I have got another suggestion which is so obvious you will probably immediately reject it...

How about the roads of London? Specifically the ancient routes Tyburn Lane (Oxford Street) and the ancient Roman Road leading out through NW London the Edgware road. Variously labelled Kilburn High Road Cricklewood Broadway for it's different sections.. Site of Kilburn wells And the old Kilburn Priory. The remains of an ancient well from the priory being visible in N wall of Kilburn High Road TFL station.

Roman roads are fascinating when you start to study them. In a sense they are almost "leys" in themselves. Archaeologists have begun to wonder if these long straight roads measured and modified by the Romans were not closely based on existing tracks in use since prehistoric tines.

You know those photos I sent you of the Aldgate pump at the site of the ancient St Michael's Well within the City?

That's the start point of the A11 the Roman road to Norwich. The Romans worked with the site of a pre-existing water source. Either for entirely practical reasons or because the trackway was well established and they just twinked it up!

The Roman roads are all over London but weave a fascinating knot in and around Westminster, the City and Southwark. Drovers roads /livestock routes are pretty interesting also.

How on earth would you tackle Metroland? I think it's interesting Idea and I always liked it but so sprawt /spread out. And apart from Wembley Park will be a mystery to folk. Essentially lots of Suburbia.

Ian Luck (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 18:49

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I know you've done the Underground, but how about someone getting on a tube train - and not getting off, and their body being found at a disused part of the network? Lots of odd corners where nobody looks, or goes, and bits like the 'Kennington Loop', or 'North End' station. Or several bodies found in the Kingsway Underpass Tram tunnel, or somehowe secreted in the bomb shelter under Leicester Square, which would be more intriguing, since it's sealed - or even in the electricity substation under the ticket booth in the centre of the square itself. This train of thought originated on a walk around a supermarket, and finding anomalous objects on the shelves - stuff like a new box of underpants in a fridge full of fruit juice, or a box of pasta in with the magazines. We call this the actions of 'The Phantom Placer'. That started off that odd chain of thought. For which I apologize. The bodies are found, and all B&M have to do is work out how, and why, and who. Simple.

Jan (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 18:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh and of course it's the presence of the natural spring /well/ water source which at one point is the Well of a St Michael's church near Aldgate(Demolished in the Middle Ages) is what in all probability brings the entry gate placed within the City walls to the location. The Romans found a spring there. It's the presence of the water which dictates the things which happen around it. The Aldgate pump a later appearance but placed at a much the same place as the well which preceded it (Incidentally at one Aldgate pump was known as "The pump of death"!)is named AFTER something the presence of water caused to be there. You with me? I know I am not explaining this very clearly....

It's a bit like ancient churchyards having very, very old yew trees sited therein. As it turns out the oldest of these Yews considerably predate the medieval churches nearby......
Now we have spent centuries believing the presence of the ancient churches caused Yews to be planted nearby. Turns out that for the very oldest sites that's completely back to front. Churches were likely built at sites of tree groves likely used for the worship of some form of nature spirits.

I wonder how much of the stuff we have spent millennia believing is completely back to front.

Jan (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 18:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ian the pasta in the magazines is easily solved...It's some crazy panic buyer concealing dried foodstuffs.
In a week or two lots of folk recovering from colds and flu will wonder why their cupboards are full of dried foodstuffs.....and their bathrooms full of loo rolls.

Brian Evans (not verified) Sat, 07/03/2020 - 23:32

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I'm sorry to hear about the accident. You seem a bit jinxed this year.

How about a film studio setting?

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 04:09

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Brian, that's brilliant! (They're filming at Greenwich but something happens at the studio?)

Stephen Morris (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 07:00

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Hi Chris,sorry about the accident.how about a plot set in the world of retail.

John Howard (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 08:00

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I'm with Brian and Helen. How about Ealing studios......? A lot of room for Arthur to ramble on and reminisce there I would have thought. Janice would love it, maybe a sub plot there.
PS: Hope you are being fawned over and enjoying convalescence.

Ian Luck (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 08:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Okay, Jan, in the current climate, I'll concede that - but the pants in the fridge? Some toy cars and an Iron Man figure in the cheese? Some electrical plugs alongside the bread? The Phantom Placer is certainly random. I used to photograph them, but once you have more than twenty, of at least one will be an item of lingerie dropped in with the salad stuff,they look a bit weird, and need removing, forthwith.

Peter Dixon (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 12:11

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Mornington Crescent

chazza (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 12:32

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Crouch End was always kind of pervy and dark....

Jan (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 13:25

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You are pulling our legs here Chaz Do you really reckon Crouch End was dark or pervy? No your having us on...its lovely....well relatively. Tell you where IS a bit odd round by Seven Sisters tube not the common land where the actual Seven Sisters are. The Seven Sisters being for real a group of seven trees planted by a family containing a group of Seven Sisters and it always seems to have been this way...really interesting little phenomenon. Like the tree circle in Hyde Park (think is Hyde park!!) Which is itself pretty difficult to find.

But yes back to round Seven Sisters if you come out of the tube and this is from memory cos I can't put my hands on me old A-Z (I don''t live in a Fowler type clutter free environent). If you make a right and stroll up toward the big junction St Ann's Church which occupies a hill site is on the offside on the right. I think round there round that way on has a very strange vibe. Back in the day there was a busy red light area was just up the road. The church is interesting in and of itself though. There seems to be a correlation between St. Ann's churches and Tan Hills i.e. hills where Sun Worship has taken place. These places always get the Sun at a particular angle on the eqinoxes/solstices and this seems to be naturally marked at the site. There is here.

The whole area is worth a visit.

Tottenham if you think about the name is a variation on "Toot Hill" there's a pretty major 5 road meeting close by. It's got all the makings of an area where major leys intersect. Funny place.
You're snoozing now aren't you? I better go back to maths......

Mike (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 15:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Off subject, but with your torn muscle are you still able to get to Heffer's do in a couple of weeks?

Ian Luck (not verified) Sun, 08/03/2020 - 18:52

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Stephen King wrote a very creepy Lovecraftian short story set in, and entitled 'Crouch End'.

Alasdair (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 00:12

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Plenty to get your teeth into at Woolwich Arsenal. So much history to the place, plenty of conflict between old and new parts. Oh, and it's riddled with ghosts.

Kieran (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 02:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've often thought you could use something of one of London's lesser palaces, the ones that aren't royal residences or especially major tourist destinations. They're often odd, though they aren't mostly in the City of London, proper.

Stephen Groves (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 08:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hi Chris,

How about London's Markets.

All best

Daren (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 09:34

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Hi Chris

Loving the idea of hospitals, being a long-serving NHSer myself. Several of them have a fascinating history, Barts, St Thomases and The Royal London to name-check a few. Even some of the newer ones have in the suburbs have a few good tales. The Trust I work for was the birthplace of a former prime minister, Oliver Reed worked there as a porter and one of the hospitals is a former Victorian workhouse. Also, most hospitals have lots of underground tunnels and access ways rarely seen by the public.

davem (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 09:35

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@ Brooke ... the foot tunnel from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs is next to the Cutty Sark, and my school cross-country run used to go though the tunnel.

Ken Mann (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 10:26

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How about something about the malign influence of the WW2 "nostalgia" of ignorant people. I live near a housing estate built on a wartime aerodrome, a short walk from a tube station that was destroyed during the war, and used to have elderly neighbours and relatives who were perfectly frank about the horrors of the blitz. Also nearby, the closed down Winsor and Newton factory where rose madder used to be made, with a firing slit built into the front wall next to the factory gates. A few miles north are the country lanes where John Steed and Mrs Peel used to drive sports cars past pubs and village greens.
Soho was evacuated because of an unexploded wartime bomb only a few weeks ago.

David (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 10:59

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Love the film Green for Danger. Hospitals gets my vote.

David Ronaldson (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 14:12

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I'd like to see something based around the various guilds and livery companies: so much arcane lore and ritual there.

Vlad (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 15:02

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Madame Tussauds? " Doll of Putin's killing again"

Rupert (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 15:34

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How about Hammersmith, by the river? Or even across the river to Barnes and Putney?
Lots of old pubs like The Dove, jazz at The Bull's Head in Barnes, maybe the old Harrods Furniture Repository [Depository?] etc etc... William Morris too!

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 09/03/2020 - 18:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

William Morris would be a good element. Remember we're looking for something new. The livery companies is Seventy-seven Clocks, pubs as a centre point is Victoria Vanishes and who could forget the tar, etc. covering the guy in the pop-up market?

Graham (not verified) Tue, 10/03/2020 - 17:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like the idea of London hospitals, but as you mentioned with sport they're a little cliched.

One idea that sprung to mind is London Colleges and Universities, there's a wide range and not just academic subjects.

One that springs to mind is/was Shoreditch Technical College which became London College of Furniture which joined with the London Metropolitan University. One of it's old buildings, in the Commercial road, used to be an office for Norwich Union

Ian Luck (not verified) Tue, 10/03/2020 - 23:43

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A series of crimes and outrages (I love that term), at sites that are mentioned in album tracks by famous bands, so that the connection isn't immediately obvious. For example, one of the very best, and strangest songs by Madness, is 'Primrose Hill', which, unless you are familiar with their albums, you wouldn't know - most people see them as a pop singles band only, but their albums are where you will find the really good stuff. Likewise, from the same album, 'The Rise And Fall', is the equally strange 'Mr Speaker (Gets The Word)', about a ranter at Speaker's Corner. The later Madness album 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' is simply wonderful, full of some really darkly amusing songs. Madness have always had more than a hint of grimy darkness mixed into the good humour, and some of their songs are full of a yearning sadness, 'One Better Day' being a good example of this.

davem (not verified) Wed, 11/03/2020 - 11:37

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@ Ian Luck ... agreed, the Madness album 'Liberty of Norton Folgate' is stunningly good and unlike anything else they have done.

A great London album.

Kristina (not verified) Thu, 12/03/2020 - 17:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What about the city of Oxford? Okay, I know, a zillion other mystery tales are already set there BUT I would just love to see Arthur facing off with the University crowd and skewering some pompous professor or getting lost in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

SteveB (not verified) Fri, 13/03/2020 - 22:30

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's a book Silvermeadow by Barry Maitland set in a shopping mall. The point is, it's like an iceberg, as a shopper you only see 20%, 80% you don't see.
I think a mall would be an amazing location for B&M.

Bee (not verified) Sat, 14/03/2020 - 11:32

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I would think the V&A would be a great place for a mystery - being full of mysteries itself. I recall the entry to the Members Room being hidden behind a mirror! I would also give a vote to Ealing - home of the studios - and the strange John Soane's Pitzhanger Manor. A curiously empty building in contrast to the overstuffed Soane Museum. It also has the Hoover Building, a handsome viaduct, splendid Town Hall and a spectacular old cinema with a Spanish style interior now sadly a gospel church.