One of the books I hope to be reading soon for the Transworld Book Group challenge is The Water Room, the second in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series. As I already had a copy of the first in the series waiting to be read and I would prefer not to read them in the wrong order, I decided to read Full Dark House first. And I’m glad I did, because Full Dark House definitely has a ‘first in the series’ feel about it.
Arthur Bryant and John May are two elderly detectives who work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a branch of the London Metropolitan Police created to deal with unusual cases. When the PCU office is destroyed in an explosion, Bryant, who was inside the building, is presumed dead. His partner, May, who has worked with him for over sixty years, is determined to find out who killed Bryant and why.
In order to understand who may have been responsible for Bryant’s death, we are taken back in time to November 1940, when Bryant and May worked together on their very first case during the London Blitz. While bombs fell on the city night after night, the two young detectives were investigating the murders of several cast members of a controversial new play at the Palace Theatre. As the story moves backwards and forwards between 1940 and the present day, May searches for a connection between the ‘Palace Phantom’ and Arthur Bryant’s death.
With their different strengths and weaknesses, Arthur Bryant and John May complement each other perfectly and each of them approaches the investigation in his own way. Bryant has unconventional ideas, an active imagination and an interest in the paranormal, whereas May is the more logical and methodical of the two. Setting the story in two time periods sixty years apart was a good idea because it allowed us to watch the two detectives meeting each other for the first time in 1940 and to see how their relationship had developed over the intervening years. I liked both of them and am looking forward to getting to know them better throughout the rest of the series.
I loved the descriptions of black-outs, bomb shelters, rationing and other aspects of daily life in London during the Blitz – it all felt very convincing and realistic. In fact, of all the books I’ve read recently set in wartime London, this is probably the one that evokes the era best, which was something I hadn’t expected. I can tell Christopher Fowler must have researched every part of his book very thoroughly, because as well as all the little details that make his portrayal of London so believable, there are also some very detailed descriptions of the backstage layout of the theatre and lots of information on Greek mythology too.
Apart from a section in the middle of the book where the plot moved forward very slowly and nothing seemed to happen for a while, I really enjoyed my first introduction to Bryant and May. With two mysteries to solve, lots of plot twists, and a large cast of colourful characters both within the Peculiar Crimes Unit and at the theatre, Full Dark House is a great opening to the series.