Sunday, January 03, 2010

Christopher Fowler

Christopher Fowler is probably best known in the U.S. for his Bryant and May series, which the Fowler interviewer for describes this way:

"Bryant & May are a pair of elderly, argumentative detectives who work in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. The names Bryant and May are instantly recognisable to many who remember boxes of Bryant & May matches. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a police division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause public unrest. This isn’t so far-fetched, because several such units were founded during the war. There was a great deal of experimentation with crime, communication and scientific units at the time. In fact, my father belonged to one such unit. These men and women were all in their late teens and early twenties, and were encouraged to think in radical new directions."

As much as I enjoy the Bryant and May series I'm more a fan of his dark suspense and supernatural stories and novels. His work has a collective theme: urban dread. He illustrates his theme in a variety of styles and tones--black comedy, subtle whispered horror, Hitchcockian terror and anxiety neurosis played to the highest power. To him the city is a Lovecraftian monster that toys with people for its own sadistic amusement. Sometimes you feel that even Fowler's villains are victims of the monster--only playing out roles foredoomed by the beast.

Fowler's writerly virtues are impressive. He is a fine stylist, an even finer psychologist of his people, and he's a first-rate idea man, as good at certain moments as the late Ira Levin.

I mention this because somebody sent me a story of Fowler's called The Lady Downstairs which may be the most unique take on Sherlock Holmes I've read--it's narrated by Holmes' landlady who must put with up his arrogance, his endless late night visitors and his damned screechy violin playing. I wish I'd read this when it appeared on the BBC site in 2006. I'd definitely have put it into that year's Best Of volume.

Fowler's somebody you should read. Given his range--he's worked in many forms, including screenwriting--you're sure to find your type of story.

BTW I would link to The Lady Downstairs but when I tracked it back I found it on a site that may well be mostly pirated material. I can't be certain either way.

1 comment:

Martin Edwards said...

A very good account of a very intelligent writer. I read The Victoria Vanishes recently, and loved it.