Author of the Month

Name: Christopher Fowler

First Novel: Roofworld

Most Recent Book: The Bleeding Heart

'Long may these old boys reign to solve more cases of the bizarre and downright bonkers!'

Late one evening a couple of teenagers, Romain and Shirone are on a ‘date’. They climb over the railings of St George’s Gardens to smoke a joint and watch the stars above London. During this nocturnal activity the two youngsters hear a cracking of wood and a man emerges, zombie-like from his own grave. Running from this scene that looks like something from a Hammer horror film, Romain goes back to have another look. It is this second viewing that seals his fate.

Bryant and May are called out as a tale of resurrection is something the PCU excels at investigating. Little do they realise that this case will involve fraud, suicide and the desecration of two more graves before they finally see the light. And that doesn’t include Bryant dealing with the disappearance of the ravens at the Tower of London. In locating the birds comes in to contact with the sinister Mr Merry, but the encounter disturbs him more than he realises and Bryant for the first time begins to contemplate his own mortality.

Even though set in present London, there is always a wonderful, pungent aroma of the Golden classic age when reading a Bryant and May. Yes, the PCU does use modern technology to help with their current case and Bryant even has a mobile phone (if he remembers to switch it on or even charge it up!), but there is always a dash of nostalgia for policing of a bygone era.

Fowler’s mysteries are always tinged with the macabre but always have their conclusions firmly planted in reality so that no solution is going to be explained by anything unworldly. The other marvellous part of Fowler’s books is his humour. Throughout his novel Fowler brings a little levity to lighten the dark proceedings. I loved the arrival of regular Maggie Armitage, a white witch of Bryant’s acquaintance who uses every ‘trick in the book’ to counteract his negativity and ‘she also tried regressive hypnosis to try and find out what he had done with her deep-fat fryer, which he had borrowed and never returned’. You have to laugh.

‘The Bleeding Heart’ is a great case for the two old gents and even if you haven’t yet been introduced to the suave May and cantankerous Bryant, then don’t despair as Fowler makes it easy for any newcomer to understand the dynamics within the group. Fowler has delivered another charming romp with our favourite elderly detectives and their bizarre collection of ‘merry men’ that will keep you enthralled till the solving of the case. Long may these old boys reign to solve more cases of the bizarre and downright bonkers!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) How did the idea of Bryant and May first come in to being?
I wanted to create my own Golden Age detectives in a modern setting. I made Bryant & May old to dispense with the ageism that suggests only the young can carry out their jobs well, and wanted to show that older characters could bring talent and experience to the genre. I’d 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.
2) Bryant and May: 'The Bleeding Heart' is their eleventh novel and still going strong (despite a few creaking joints). A couple of elderly and grumpy detectives don’t sound very appealing and yet it works and they have a legion of fans. What is it about these two old, cantankerous gentlemen that make them so appealing to your readers?
Because they’re old I could make them simultaneously behave like experienced adults and immature children. I think heroes are so often boring simply because they have to be appealingly young – well, they don’t have to be; they could be esoteric, eccentric, bad-tempered and as weird as the villains, who in most books are more interesting.
3) Every case so far has a touch of the macabre. In ‘The Bleeding Heart’ the case revolves around a corpse coming alive, zombies and resurrectionists. As you also write horror besides the Bryant and May series, does your fascination for the supernatural bleed (forgive the pun) in to your detective novels?
I think so, but it was important that the stories were realistic and non-supernatural, so that they conformed to established crime rules. It was also important not to fall into the Scooby Doo trap of having everything explained as some kind of hoax. (‘It’s Mr Grudge, the old mill owner!’) And London before the mid-1980s was a city steeped in the gothic and gruesome – I’m just playing to its strengths.
4) Your latest Bryant and May starts with a man appearing to escape from his own grave in St George’s Gardens in Bloomsbury. There are lots of tiny corners of London that crop up in your books that make it feel like an A to Z of hidden London. Is it your mission to show readers the hidden/lost parts of London? What is it about London that fascinates you so much?
First, I’m a born Londoner and spent my childhood charging around the West End, but each discovery I made revealed the tip of something else. There’s a lot of lazy writing about London, but if you poke about and talk to people you discover incredible riches. ‘The Bleeding Heart’ started from hearing about the legend of Bleeding Heart Yard, but also from watching office workers on lunch breaks sitting on gravestones without any idea of who was buried beneath them.
5) This latest case is populated by the usual motley crew from the PCU, with a few new faces appearing. Is it difficult to keep an ongoing series fresh and attractive to your army of fans without changing the landscape too much?
I get bored easily, so I like to ring the changes a bit. I always wanted to explore my detectives’ careers from beginning to end, so I started with an origin story using the setting of old London theatres, because they’ve hardly changed in decades. London is full of unusual characters, so I use a lot of people I’ve met, including British Museum academics, artists, lecturers, a white witch, a scientist, members of the Gilbert and Sullivan society – all real (but exaggerated by the time I’ve finished with them!)
6) You have also published a graphic novel of Bryant and May. Were you conscious of the fact about giving people an image of the two gentlemen which may not have correlated with their own personal image of your elderly detectives?
Yes, and I’m not sure it worked, but not for that reason; after all, people don’t mind seeing their favourite detectives on TV. The problem was that crime fans don’t read graphic novels – the markets are separate, and in the UK we barely read comics at all compared to Europe. But it was a lovely exercise. I’m proud of the book and think artist Keith Page did a magnificent job.
7) You obviously do a lot of research on myths, folklore, the occult, spiritualism and all types of mysticism. Is it research for you or are you like a big kid in a sweet shop with this sort of stuff? As with Arthur Bryant, have you collected a raft of insider knowledge and contacts over the years?
I love doing the research! My collection of London books is absurdly vast. As a location, London offers more anachronistic juxtapositions than most European cities - you're likely to find a church on the site of a brothel - and it was important to find a way of reflecting this. Each story tries out a different kind of Golden Age mystery fiction; ‘Full Dark House’ is a whodunnit. ‘The Water Room’ is a John Dickson-Carr style locked-room mystery. ’77 Clocks’ is an adventure in the style of Bulldog Drummond, and so on.

The unlikeliest elements of these tales are mined from London's forgotten lore; tales of lost paintings, demonised celebrities, buried sacrifices, mysterious guilds and social panics have casts of whores, mountebanks, lunatics and impresarios who have been washed aside by the tide of history - but their descendants are still all around us, living in the capital city.
8) You have also written two memoirs. Was it a vastly different experience writing these books and in what way was the process different from writing fiction?
They were sort of willed into being – I love doing readings, but often just reading out a chapter is confusing for an audience, so I took to writing snippets about my background. Soon my family and my love of books and films overtook these pieces, and I found that they were going down very well. I ended up with these strangely upbeat volumes, which I think of as anti-misery memoirs!
9) For writers like me who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Just one? Oh, man! How about this (actually two in one); You have to love something about your hero, and you must always leave room for your characters to breathe.
10) What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Let’s not say Sherlock Holmes here, or Bleak House, which people tend to forget is a murder mystery. Let’s go for personal game-changers.

‘The Moving Toyshop’ by Edmund Crispin taught me that crime could be great fun to read.

Keith Ridgway’s astonishing ‘Hawthorn & Child’ has changed the rules for me by throwing out all the usual crime rules and viewing events through a kaleidoscope.

AD Miller’s ‘Snowdrops’ challenges you to try and understand if a crime has even been committed, forcing you to ask; what is a crime at all?