Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
I read this book via my library after it appeared on the list of recommendations from Amazon – I feel guilty that (a) I’m not spending money to read the book and (b) if I did, I wouldn’t be using a ‘proper’ book shop. Is this normal? Anyway, the reason for the recommendation was because I bought Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt books and Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books; however, I don’t think that the recommendation was entirely accurate.
The book is about Arthur Bryant and John May, the senior detectives in the Peculiar Crime Unit of the London police force. The story starts with a bang – Bryant is apparently blown up in an explosion in their offices. May, distraught from the loss of his partner after sixty years together, is determined to find the culprit and discovers that there is a link to their first case together, back in 1940, so we get May remembering the case while he continues his investigation.
The second world war is having its effect on London, with nightly German bomber raids changing the landscape of the city and killing many people (although the government kept this hushed up so that morale wouldn’t be affected). With all able-bodied men sent to war, it is left to those who were not allowed into the armed forces to man the police forces. Arthur Bryant is 22 and in charge of the newly formed PCU, even though the man from the Home Office doesn’t like him and wants it shut down. John May is 19 and fresh out of a rushed police course, eager to help. As soon as he starts, they begin investigating a murder in the Palace Theatre, which soon becomes multiple murders.
There are two principle elements that stand out in the book. The first are the two lead characters themselves: Bryant is a stuffy and strange old man, even in his early twenties; May is modern and clear-thinking, and the two of them complement each other perfectly. The other element is the use and knowledge of the setting – the author has researched the era and the city but doesn’t overwhelm with detail; rather, he enriches the tapestry with vivid details and snippets of information that make the historical aspect vivid and alive.
This is a very enjoyable whodunit, with a bizarre mystery, a colourful collection of supporting characters and resolution that is satisfying. As a comic book reader, I didn’t fall for the slight of hand of the explosion (No Body Means No Death), but that didn’t stop the entertainment factor. The only qualm I have is that the recommendation from Amazon wasn’t totally accurate: I was expecting the ‘Peculiar’ of PCU to describe investigations of werewolves and myth (and the referred to Leicester Square Vampire) but this book was nothing of the sort. However, that won’t put me off from reading further Bryant and May mysteries.