Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Water Room, by Christopher Fowler

The Water Room
By Christopher Fowler 2005

This is supposed to be a sterile zone, although I've lost count of the number of times I've found your cough drops in a body bag.
(coroner Oswald Finch, to Arthur Bryant)

Perhaps one day I'll manage to read a series of books in what I'm assuming is the accepted fashion - from beginning to end. It's not going to happen with Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series, since I've already fouled things up by starting with book two - The Water Room.

Oh, well. So be it. I don't read that many mystery series, by the way, and it's actually rather rare that I read a second book by a given author, given that there are so many authors I haven't had a chance to try. But something about The Water Room struck a chord. Already I'm almost finished with another book in the series and have started a third. That's mighty high praise in my neck of the woods.

There's a pretty decent mystery at the heart of The Water Room and a whole lot of arcane history about London and sundry other topics, if you go for that sort of thing. But the chief draw here (at least for me) is the characters. Make that "character" actually, since the star of the show is really Arthur Bryant, the elder half (by a few years) of a crime-solving duo who are well past retirement age and who have been working together for more than a half century.

With all due respect to John May, who's a fine enough character, he's eclipsed by Bryant, who is an eccentric of the first order and rather irascible, to boot. It's a bit of a stretch, I guess, but I couldn't help thinking of May as the Archie Goodwin of the pair, given that he's practical, down to earth and able to play well with others. Bryant, of course, is the sorta kinda like Nero Wolfe character.

In any event the pair are part of London's Peculiar Crimes Unit, which is essentially the Rodney Dangerfield of the city's law enforcement establishment. The book kicks off with a decidedly peculiar crime when an elderly woman is found dead sitting in a chair in her basement. Though she and her surroundings are dry, it's discovered that she's ingested and drowned on river water.

Which is just the start of the peculiarities, but I won't say too much more about the specifics of plot and execution. Fowler lays things out and ties them up pretty neatly. Although, to be quite honest, it was the interplay of the characters and those liberal doses of arcane history that really kept things moving along for me.


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