Published in hardback by Doubleday on 5th November 2015, priced £16.99. My thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy and the chance to be part of the blog tour.
In every detective’s life there are cases that can’t be discussed, and throughout the Bryant & May novels there have been mentions of some of these such as the Deptford Demon or the Little Italy Whelk Smuggling Scandal.
Now Arthur Bryant has decided to open the files on eleven of these previously unseen investigations that required the collective genius and unique modus operandi of Arthur Bryant and John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit - investigations that range from different times (London during the Great Smog) and a variety of places: a circus freak show, on board a London Tour Bus and even a yacht off the coast of Turkey.
And in addition to these eleven classic cases, readers are also given a privileged look inside the Peculiar Crimes Unit (literally, with a cut away drawing of their offices), a guide to the characters of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and access to the contents of Arthur Bryant’s highly individual library.
I admit to being relatively new to the Bryant and May books, but I have taken both of the main characters to heart almost instantaneously. The author has a wonderful skill of creating a whole array of characters with eccentricities and foibles. There is a certain amount of humour throughout and at times I found myself chuckling at the pair of ageing detectives latest escapades. I love the quirkiness and the originality of the writing, it is so refreshing.
The books are set in London and I would say that London is a character in the books in its own right. I love the little trip around all the places that you wouldn't find in a guide book. Places from the past.
I could never get bored of this series of books, always something new and different everytime. However you know that everytime you will be absorbed into the London streets and absorbed into the lives and minds of Bryant and May.
This book is a collection of short stories, a look back on eleven classic cases. You do not necessarily need to have read the other Bryant and May books to enjoy this collection. It might be the perfect place to begin to get to know the marvels of the characters and the writing.
It would certainly make a wonderful gift, if you like good dectective stories that are a bit different from the norm.
I am delighted that Christopher is joining me on the blog today to discuss the craft of creating short stories, and the difference in the reading and the writing process compared to novels.
I tend to think of short stories as single diamonds and novels as necklaces. The former can be polished until they’re perfect, but craftspeople rarely make a perfect necklace. I have only written two or three stories that I’m 100 per cent happy with. Stories are a great way to test ideas. If you get to the end of one and still want to write more on the subject, there’s a chance you have a novel. Many of my non-Bryant & May books started as short stories. It works the other way around, too. The last chapter of Waugh’s social satire 'A Handful of Dust' is in many horror collections as a stand-alone story. A list of my favourites would include;
‘The Cone’ and ‘The Door In The Wall’ – HG Wells
‘Leningen Versus The Ants’ – Carl Stephenson
‘Camera Obscura’ – Basil Copper
‘Evening Primrose’ – John Collier
‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’ – Evelyn Waugh
‘The Fly’ – George Langelaan
Alfred Hitchcock had put his name to a series of dog-eared anthologies that were wonderful assorted literary ragbags, and from these I started making informed decisions about the writing I enjoyed most. Now I read a vast number of short story collections because they’re ideally suited for electronic reading.
To answer your question best, I’d say that short stories allow for experimentation to an infinite degree. I’ve written stories told only in speech, one in futuristic teen slang, another in the form of a sinister travel guide, another like a museum booklet. John Sladek famously wrote a short story in the form of a questionnaire to be filled in. These formats are hard to pull off in longer fiction.
Anthologies are not collections. The former are compilations from a variety of authors under the aegis of an editor who (hopefully) makes an intelligent selection, and the latter stem from a single writer. Collections are less popular than anthologies, because anthologies can be themed more easily around a single subject.
Anthologies were once hugely popular in the UK and provided an inexpensive way of discovering new writers; a task now largely performed by e-readers. Many anthologies are now very collectable.
In 1937 Fifty Strangest Stories Ever Told was published and became an instant classic that stayed on household shelves for decades. The 700-page volume introduced readers to stories and authors they had never read before. One of the oddest anthologies is Poolside, which unusually doesn’t credit its editor. The stories all involve swimming pools. John Cheever’s classic ‘The Swimmer’ is here, along with Edna O’Brien’s ‘Paradise’. Poolside looks like a normal book but is printed with waterproof paper so that it can be read in a swimming pool.
Too many of these volumes under-represent female authors, but a volume called Alfred Hitchcock Presents sparked off a two-decade long set of short story anthologies that proved massively influential, and rebalanced the field by featuring a great many female authors who’d had little previous exposure in the UK.
Don’t get me started – we could be here all day!
About the Author:
Christopher Fowler is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UK's top film marketing companies.
He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels - and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak.
He lives in King's Cross.
You can find him on twitter: @Peculiar