Fowler, Christopher – Bryant and May Mysteries

“Do you enjoy reading?”

“I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Bryant quailed at the thought. “That’s not really reading, is it? More like staring at an assortment of words.”

“It’s very popular.”

“So is taking photographs of your dinner for Facebook, but that doesn’t mean it adds to the total sum of human knowledge.”

This is the kind of passage that makes me question those reviewers who claim that Christopher Fowler’s writing is just a jumble of words. His stories, his characters, and his murders are all complex and nuanced.

His writing is sometimes abstruse, and one is occasionally reminded that Brits tend to have much more refined vocabularies than, say, Americans. I can understand some readers being stymied by Fowler’s clever dialogue, snappy retorts, and sly Briticisms, but I coasted along in a (London) fog of pleasure. I don’t enjoy horrendous murders, and usually dislike blood and gore. But I also dislike when murders are described as if the victims are only cartoon versions of humans so as not to disturb our sense of decorum. Sometimes it feels like we’re being spared the icky details of what death looks like. Fowler doesn’t let the reader get away with any kind of laziness – he makes it clear when a victim suffers and when it happens too quickly for suffering to occur.

He also dumps a number of characters on us and we’d better just follow along if we expect to understand London’s irritating police administration, the professional rivalries between departments, and the lack of esteem in which the Peculiar Crimes Unit is held by everyone not in it. We also need to get past our confusion about why someone as old and dotty as Bryant is still employed as a public servant – although the brilliance of his deductions is made clear again and again. Those of us who approached the millennium as fully formed adults are probably all cheering him on against that most universally accepted prejudice: Ageism. Not even a bout of unexplained dementia stops him from figuring out who did it.