Book review: Full Dark House

Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler, 2003

This is the second in ‘The Great Transworld Crime Caper!’ that I’ve been sent to review and the first in the series of Bryant and May mysteries. It has an unusual beginning in that one of the pair (Arthur Bryant) is blown up and killed in the first few pages. His partner, John May, then tries to find out why and by whom. This investigation leads back to the first case the pair worked on, a series of killings in a theatre during the London blitz of the second world war. The bulk of the book relates that case with the rest dealing with the current day investigation.

This is not an easy book to read. I found the writing clunky and off-putting. It switches between multiple points of view, often without a signal and with no link to the plot. The omniscient narrator sticks in his observations and opinions willy-nilly. Characters and the narrator spout chunks of theatrical lore with no justification of plot or motivation. Every now and then the narrator sticks in some observation about how one or the other of the pair spent the next sixty years doing the same thing as they were doing at that point in the plot. All these interventions are jarring. I found myself having to go off and do something else every dozen pages to get over the annoyance.

The primary characters are engaging. There is no shortage of such partnerships in crime story history: the eccentric and the prosaic detective have been paired off since Holmes and Watson. This novel presents enough background (and, weirdly, foreground) of the two that would make the reader look forward to more in the series.

The plot is also interesting. Theatres are always good places for weird goings-on and they do not come much weirder than this. We get ancient Greek myths mixed in with suspicions of Nazi infiltration, elaborate killings inside the theatre with bombings and displacement all around it. All this is entirely satisfying and could do without the modern day mystery.

The book is filled with the usual false leads and red herrings and is more or less tied up at the end. The resolution is as melodramatic as you could wish for from the preceding pages, and as unbelievable as you’d expect.

I would like to get hold of the next book in this series but will borrow it from the library: I’ll only want to buy future episodes in the series if the shortcomings in this one are absent.

Posted on March 7, 2011, in Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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