by Christopher Fowler
But where to start? We have yet to discover the lair of the Leicester Square Vampire. He's still got my shoes, you know. (Arthur Bryant)
After reading two of the later books in Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May series I decided to go back to the beginning - Full Dark House. In writing it Fowler also went back to the beginning of the sixty-some year relationship between these two detectives. It's a story that jumps back and forth from the present day, where the offices of the Peculiar Crimes Unit have been leveled by a bomb, and the first case that Arthur Bryant and John May worked on together, not long after the latter joined the unit.
That part of the story takes place in war-torn London, which is being decimated almost nightly by Nazi bombers. The author does a great job of capturing the oppressive feeling of a city where blackouts, air raids and sudden death have almost become normal. In the midst of all this Bryant and May are called upon to investigate the murder of a dancer in a city theatre who died after having her feet severed by an elevator.
Which is pretty gruesome stuff, to be sure, but that's not the end of it. More gruesome and possibly symbolic murders take place at the theater and then one of the actors disappears and a number of people report seeing some sort of a phantom creeping around in the bowels of this vast, creaky and labyrinthine place. If it all sounds like something out of a grand old horror movie then consider that Fowler has also pressed his pen into the service of writing horror in the past.
As it turns out the two separate threads of narrative may have something to do with each other and Fowler manages to tie things up pretty neatly. It's also interesting to note that his two main characters have apparently not changed all that significantly over the course of sixty-some years. Quirky Arthur Bryant seems just as much an oddball in his early twenties as he does later on. It's not long before down-to-Earth John May steps into the role of minder, of sorts, for a partner who's more comfortable living in an odd alternate reality inside his head than in the real world.
For my other Bryant and May reviews look here.