Bryant & May – Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler

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The year is 1969 and ten guests are about to enjoy a country house weekend at Tavistock Hall. But one amongst them is harbouring thoughts of murder. . .

The guests also include the young detectives Arthur Bryant and John May – undercover, in disguise and tasked with protecting Monty Hatton-Jones, a whistle-blower turning Queen’s evidence in a massive bribery trial. Luckily, they’ve got a decent chap on the inside who can help them – the one-armed Brigadier, Nigel ‘Fruity’ Metcalf.

The scene is set for what could be the perfect country house murder mystery, except that this particular get-together is nothing like a Golden Age classic. For the good times are, it seems, coming to an end. The house’s owner – a penniless, dope-smoking aristocrat – is intent on selling the estate (complete with its own hippy encampment) to a secretive millionaire but the weekend has only just started when the millionaire goes missing and murder is on the cards. But army manoeuvres have closed the only access road and without a forensic examiner, Bryant and May can’t solve the case. It’s when a falling gargoyle fells another guest that the two incognito detectives decide to place their future reputations on the line. And in the process discover that in Swinging Britain nothing is quite what it seems…
So gentle reader, you are cordially invited to a weekend in the country. Expect murder, madness and mayhem in the mansion!

Man, oh man, oh man, I loved this. I even had to go against all my instincts and stretch out the reading, because I just didn’t want to get to the end and have to wait another year for the next one.  Just *love* Bryant & May.

The release of a new Bryant and May novel is always a big event at LifeOfCri.me Manor.  Each eagerly awaited edition is devoured, normally, and when the opportunity arises to get a chance of an early copy it’s one that I won’t miss.  As such I found myself getting to grips with John May and Arthur Bryant in full on throwback mode, with Hall of Mirrors being set in 1969, and trying desperately to slow down my reading and swallow up each and every delicious word.

It’s definitely my favourite of the series so far, mainly because it’s one of my favourite styles of tale.  Hall of Mirrors is what Fowler calls a ‘precinct’ novel (as was White Corridor).  Everything happens in a limited space and time.  In this case an old manor house, a flooded and a closed off village, alongside a small cast of vivid characters, and of course the requisite murder.

I adored meeting younger versions of Bryant and May, and seeing the beginnings of some of their well known idiosyncrasies.  It was also fun to meet some of the earlier generations of staff at the PCU, names you will be familiar with from earlier novels but have only met fleetingly.

All of this makes Hall of Mirrors as amazing a read to satisfy the most ardent of followers, whilst making the entire series completely accessible to anyone new to Bryant and May, because it can be read and enjoyed as a completely standalone novel.  If you are new to these pair, I’m sure you will be hooked, and more than pleased to know there are another 14 books you can catch up with!

Highly recommended by me.

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Top Books from 2015

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The last year for me has been a strange mix, with book related activities on the increase and yet with reading taking a back seat to life, and reviews sitting further behind.  My motivation for keeping here updated as been at an all time low, and as such I have a list of reviews that I should get posted which is much longer than I would like.

That said I’ve managed to put together just some of the books that I have enjoyed over the last year. There’s no ranking to this, it’s just a list of those books that I’m still talking about and regularly recommending.

wpid-screenshot_2015-01-20-04-13-34-1.pngThe Liars Chair – Rebecca Whitney

A fabulously dark psychological thriller with a story you’ll love and a protagonist you won’t.

wpid-screenshot_2015-02-21-07-32-30-1.pngThe Ties That Bind – Erin Kelly

Gangster gone good meets Journalist determined to prove his murderous past. Tight and twisty plotting it’s Erin Kelly’s best yet.

IMG_2095Day Four – Sarah Lotz

Re-defining the phrase “Holiday from hell”, no one does fear and hysteria like Sarah Lotz.

IMG_2167Sophie Hannah – A Game For All The Family

Sophie Hannah at her dark and twisted best.  A thriller with a riddle, just who is telling the truth?

imageDoug Johnston – The Jump

I’ve honestly struggled to sum this one up since I first read it a few months ago and I’m not sure why.  It’s a compelling read full of the emotional aftermath of tragedy, the struggle to find understanding and to discover a meaning for existence in the wake of devastating loss.  Suffice is to say however, months later I am still fascinated by it, and think of it often.

imageDavid Mark – Taking Pity

DS Aector McAvoy is fast becoming one of my favourite damaged detectives. In Taking Pity the fourth installment of the series he’s down but not out, and you’ll be cheering his corner with every turn of the page.

imageSteve Cavanagh – The Defence

Love Mickey Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer?  Then this one’s for you, Michael Connelly’s got some competition here, and I can’t wait to read more about Eddie Flynn.

imageMichel Bussi – After The Crash

Well I wasn’t expecting that….

I dare anyone to figure this one out . A truly surprising ending to an addictive and melancholic tale.

screenshot_2015-11-25-14-57-20-1.pngAngela Marsons – Lost Girls

Angela Marsons has been one of this years big winners, with over 1,000,000 e-books shifted since the release of her first book in February.  Lost Girls is the third and best installment in her DI Kim Stone series.

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Christopher Fowler – Bryant & May London’s Glory

The perfect filler.  While we all eagerly anticipate the next full length installment in Bryant & May’s adventures, revel in a collection of short stories filling in gaps, and explaining occasionally mentioned exploits.  Pick it up, put it down, enjoy and repeat.

imageAlex Marwood – The Darkest Secret

Out in e-book now and paperback next week, The Darkest Secret is full of characters you will love to hate, I see this appearing in a lot of top recommendations over the next few months. You won’t put it down.

 

#BRYANTandMAY #LONDONSGLORY the tour, with Christopher Fowler

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IMG_2282The latest instalment in Christopher Fowlers brilliant Bryant & May series is out now.  London’s Glory is a collection of eleven Bryant and May short stories, filling in gaps and covering cases mentioned in passing over the years.

In the spirit and brevity of a short story, when I got the chance to ask a few questions of Chris, I asked simply, about the genesis of Bryant & May, where in London fans could visit for a feel of the books, and what Bryant and May would think of book tours and blogging.  Here’s what he had to say.
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Many years ago I fell in love with the Golden Age classic mysteries I found in the library, with their academic eccentricities and timeless view of an England that never really existed. There was just one problem; they badly needed an update because of outmoded attitudes to sex and race. I thought; wouldn’t it be interesting if you took the structure of the Golden Age mysteries and put them into our recognisable modern world?

If you’re going to describe the investigation of a crime, you might as well have fun with it. How does a writer create a detective? I started with a matchbox label that read “Bryant & May – England’s Glory”. That gave me their names, their nationality, and something vague and appealing, the sense of an institution with roots in London’s sooty past. London would be the third character; not the tourist city of guidebooks but the city of invisible societies, hidden parks and drunken theatricals, the increasingly endangered species I eagerly show to friends when they visit.

Every night, my detectives walk across Waterloo Bridge and share ideas, because a city’s skyline is best sensed along the edges of its river, and London’s has changed dramatically in less than a decade, with the broken spire of the Shard and the great ferris wheel of the London Eye lending it a raffish fairground feel.

By making Bryant & May old I could have them simultaneously behave like experienced adults and immature children. Bryant, I knew, came from Whitechapel and was academic, esoteric, eccentric, bad-tempered and myopic. He would wear a hearing aid and false teeth, and use a walking stick. A proud Luddite, he was antisocial, rude, miserable, erudite, bookish, while his John May was born in Vauxhall, taller, fitter, more charming, friendlier, a little more modern, techno-literate, and a bit of a ladies’ man. Their inevitable clash of working methods often causes cases to take wrong turns.

Then I threw every modern subject I could think of at them, from refugees to banking scandals, and let them sort out the dramas using old-fashioned (and vaguely illegal) methods. The result is, well, unusual!

The easiest locations to visit in the books are Waterloo Bridge, where the detectives walk most nights, and King’s Cross, where their unit is based, but in ‘The Victoria Vanishes’ there’s a list of all the pubs they visit in the books at the back. And all of the locations I use are real, so everything can be looked up and explored on Google maps!

I think John May would like blogging but Arthur Bryant would probably crash entire systems because he has a warped understanding of the internet!

Asked and Answered – Christopher Fowler

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CFowler2A while ago I got to ask a few questions of the delightful Christopher Fowler.

Chris is a prolific writer of books of many genres, who is currently most notable for his series about the adventures of octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, and their increasingly antiquated, much maligned and yet highly successful Police Department,  The Peculiar Crimes Unit.

His latest book Bryant & May: The Burning Man is out now.

 

LOC: The Burning Man marks the end of the second overreaching story arc’s in the Bryant and May series, what’s next? will we be seeing more from our favourite octogenarian pairing?

CF: The cat’s out of the bag now, Jo…I’ve been signed to more, but I’d always planned to go on – and I’d planned a way of doing so even though it appears that I’ve written the characters into an impossible corner.

LOC: My personal favourite of the series so far has been White Corridor, because of its shorter timescales, and for taking Bryant & May out of their comfort zone.  What’s your favourite Bryant & May novel and why?

CF: Ah – that’s one of my ‘precinct’ tales, where you deliberately limit your options. They’re hard to write but very satisfying. I plan to do another soon. If you look at the timescales you’ll find that nearly all of the stories take place over one week and in exactly 50 chapters. I really love ‘The Burning Man’, but then I tend to be proudest of the latest one anyway.

LOC: I have a long drive to work each day and regularly listen to audio books.  I’ve ‘read’ all of the previous Bryant & May novels this way.  Tim Goodman is a fantastic narrator, how much input did you have in selecting him, and into the production of the audio books?

CF: I didn’t, but as soon as I heard him I knew we were in a safe pair of hands. I think they’ve done an unusually fine job on the books, and I hope Tim stays in there for a long time.

LOC: If they were ever brought to the Film or the TV screen, who would you like to see in the roles?

CF: Well the rights have been sold several times, once with Derek Jacobi attached. I think Toby Jones would be a great Bryant. There’s a theme tune for the show on YouTube and on my blog, written by Des Burkinshaw. Crippen’s on it! 

LOC: What’s your writing space like, and do you have a regular writing routine?

CF: I have two very different writing spaces, one in London, in a minimalist space on an entirely glass table with no papers anywhere, the other in Barcelona on a pre-Franco voting ballot-table covered in papers and ink stains.

LOC: What are you working on at the moment?

CF: I recently finished ‘The Sand Men’ a paranoid and very sinister thriller set in Dubai, which comes out in October (I think) from Solaris. And ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’, a collection of their forgotten cases, comes out in time for Christmas this year.

LOC: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

‘CF: You don’t need to explain why people fall in love, you just need to know that they do.’ That, and ‘Dialogue is not conversation.’

LOC:Who inspires you?

CF: Gad, where to start? People in the street; I’m a good observer (harder than it sounds). Lots of writers from Dickens to Joe Orton to JG Ballard, and a lot of female American crime writers from the 1950s.

LOC: You obviously have a great deal of love for London, and its myths, magic and legends.  How do you go about discovering these and carrying out research?

CF: I walk a lot, have an insane collection of strange London books (‘The Lost Cinemas of Camden Town’, anyone?), and have a tendency to make connections that only seem obvious when you put them together. Then once I have a hypothesis, I go out and see if it could be true. In ‘The Burning Man’, it seemed obvious to me that there was a connection between Guy Fawkes and the banking riots.

and for the LifeOfCri.me quick fire round…..

Bryant or May? Both, plus London

Fact or Fiction? Both, plus Surreality

London or Barcelona? Both 

Historical or Modern? Both, plus Future

Crime or Sci-Fi? Both, plus alt. timeline

TV or Film? Both

Book or E-Book? Both

 

You can find more about Christopher Fowler can be found on his website christopherfowler.co.uk  where he blogs on a daily basis or you can follow him on twitter @Peculiar