Christopher Fowler Full Dark House (2004)
Martin Edwards The Coffin Trail (2004)
I recently mentioned second and third novels in a series, but there can be no greater delight than discovering that all important first novel which hooks you into continuing the journey onwards. I've recently read two 'firsts', both published in 2004, which I am sure are going to lead me to seconds, thirds... elevenths...
Full Dark House is No 1 in the 'Bryant and May' series by Christopher Fowler. Bryant and May have been partners in Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit since the 1940s. Now in their 80s they are still operational, called in to investigate crimes that other, 'normal' police units cannot handle.
'How many other files have you got tucked away?'
'You'd be surprised. That business with the tontine and the Bengal tiger, all documented. The runic curses that brought London to a standstill. The corpse covered in butterflies. I've got all our best cases, and a register of every useful fringe group in the capital.'
'You should upgrade your database. You've still got members of the Camden Town Coven listed as reliable contacts. And do I need to mention the Leicester Square Vampire?'
'Anyone can make a mistake,' said Bryant.
I took a while to warm to this one as I was suspicious that it might suddenly submerge me in the supernatural. Also it jumped about a bit between past and present. It didn't like interruptions or lack of concentration and I kept tangling myself up by forgetting who belonged where. Perhaps I was meant to? I thought some of the witticisms somewhat forced (and the 'Bryant & May'/matches thing sort of irked). But, really, I was a goner from the first paragraph's ginger tom cat:
It really was a hell of a blast. The explosion occurred at daybreak on the second Tuesday morning of September, its shock waves rippling through the beer-stained streets of Mornington Crescent. It detonated car alarms, hurled house bricks across the street, blew a chimney stack forty feet into the sky, ruptured the eardrums of several tramps, denuded over two dozen pigeons, catapulted a surprised ginger tom through the window of a kebab shop and fired several roofing tiles into the forehead of the Pope, who was featuring on a poster for condoms opposite the tube station.
In this, Bryant & May's first outing, we travel from a modern day explosion back to their first case, in the early years of the Second World War, when death rained from the heavens courtesy of the Luftwaffe. Death is also stalking the artistic troupe trying to stage a risque version of 'Orpheus in the Underworld', with suspiciously mythological deaths cutting appropriate victims down before the coppers' eyes. Who, or what, is stalking the Palace Theatre?
Bryant is the termagant of the pair - bad-tempered, useless with the ladies; prone to major attacks of over-thinking and very, very receptive to the kookiest explanations. He combines intuitiveness with extreme clumsiness: "He had misplaced his regular pipe. May would spend the next sixty years locating lost objects for his partner." May is the better-looking ladies' man, active, interested in the modern world and resistant to his partner's liking for introducing fortune-tellers to their cases. I thought that this book packed in a hell of an amount, along with many, many teasers for what is to come. The scenes from WW2 were marvellously done as was the marking of contrasts with modern London.
Rating: liked a lot, didn't love, but want to read more, 7/10.
My second first (oh dear, this could get confusing) is No 1 in the 'Hannah Scarlett' (The Lake District Mysteries) series by Martin Edwards, The Coffin Trail.
This is old school crime. A lovely Lake District setting, plenty of juicy characters with mysteries in their pasts, a likeable cop and an interesting amateur from an academic background. For about half the book anyone could have done it, then the pool of suspects begins to narrow... I want to find out what happens to Hannah Scarlett and her team and I want to read another cosy and thoroughly English mystery like The Coffin Trail. BTW, these books are criminally cheap for the Kindle. I think this one was a lousy AUD$7 for some well-written, neatly plotted, high quality entertainment. Incredible.
Rating: just what I felt like, 8/10.
If you liked this... Martin Edwards maintains a very interesting blog featuring lots of 'lost' crime books.