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Full Dark House – Christopher Fowler (Audiobook)


Occasionally (very occasionally) you see, read or hear something that immediately becomes an old friend.  You slip into it like a comfortable shoe, and you wonder how you have ever done without it.

As you can see by my lack of posting it’s been a busy time, filming all over the UK, some big shows to prep for and we are moving into a new office.  Well on my last drive I purchased (purely on spec having read a review) Full Dark House, by Chrisopher Fowler on Audio book.  With this I settled down to listen to the CD’s as I drove around the UK.

The book features 2 new heroes for us all to enjoy, Arthur Bryant and John May – a pair of octogenarian investigators in the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Now that in itself is enough to get one interested, but when you add in the fact that Arthur Bryant is murdered on the first page, most of the book is set in 1940 and the action all takes place in a theatre its tantalising stuff.

Despite the idea of the Peculiar Crimes unit this is not the X Files.  The world of Bryant and May, whether it’s the 1940’s or present day London, is real – warts and all. There is a tremendous amount of dialogue, the relationship between the two men is critical to the success of the book and they are so clearly defined, so readily accepted by you, that by half way through the book you can see them as clearly as any literary character you have ever known.

The humour in the book, both in observation and dialogue is quite superb.  It is a real pleasure to be listening to a book, hooked by suspense one minute and sniggering the next. The detail of both modern day and the bombed out London of 1940 is fantastic, Christopher Fowler has an idea for texture and detail which fully immerses one in his world, without getting one to bogged down by unnecessary detail.

The story, building throughout to a thrilling climax, is peculiar in every regard without being ‘fantastic’. Characters are all real, but given the theatrical nature of the plot, given room for plenty of humour. It is real humour though, not manufactured and it never betrays the real dramatic centre of the book, or the tragedies behind it.

It flips backwards and forwards between 1940 and the present effortlessly, both stories, dovetailing neatly to the climax.  I think the decision the frame the drama (which is predominately set in 1940) was a stroke of genius.  The war time story could easily stand on it’s own as the drama and characters are quite brilliant, but by linking and referencing the present day and the past, the introduction of our heroes becomes so much more effective.

Knowing (and he lets us know enough, but not too much) about the events of 1940 seen from the present day, adds different complexities and dynamics to the story. What it also does is introduce Bryant and may at the very beginning of their relationship, whilst also clearly showing their present relationship.

In Bryant and May, Christopher Fowler has added 2 new characters to the great tradition of detective fiction.  When you try to summarise the characters, Bryant – brilliant, cranky, insensitive and bookish – May, Charming, empathic, organised, it gives a rather stereotyped impression.

In reality they are so brilliantly brought to life, the have the myriad of hues that real people have, and hence are not quite so easily categorised. What they are though, is thoroughly interesting and engrossing, and of course likeable.

Perhaps the biggest pleasure is to know I have heard the first book in a great series that promises many more hours with Bryant and May.

The book is brilliantly read by Tim Goodman, his Bryant is simply great and he delivers the lines with obvious pleasure.

I cannot recommend this highly enough, as either audio book or paperback – so dive in you will not regret it!

PS.  Just stared reading The Water Room and thoroughly enjoying it.

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  1. That’s immensely kind of you…it’s been a long time since someone reviewed the first in the series!
    I’m a long way down the path now, of course, and although I write many other standalone books I always come back to my septuagenarian duo. I hope you enjoy the others!

    Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Still reading B&M (as well as your other fiction) and loving them more than ever! Loveld the recent journey back to the sixties.. as well as Strange tide, which I found very emtionally moving, tanks so much, they are all such great books…

    Wednesday, July 4, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. A reader's journey. - Lankhmar on Friday, June 12, 2015 at 10:54 am

    […] was hooked (for audiobook fans The Bryant and May books are read quite brilliantly by Tim Goodman, I reviewed it several years ago on my radio reviews site), the series has gone from strength to strength and […]

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