Review

Full Dark House

by Christopher Fowler



Christopher Fowler has had a long and distinguished literary
career. FULL DARK HOUSE is the tenth of his published novels. He
has also written and published over 100 works of shorter fiction,
most of which appear in nine different collections, as well as MENZ
INSANA, a fine graphic novel. Fowler's work is quite diverse; while
it may stray into the mystery, suspense or even dark fantasy
genres, he is impossible to pigeonhole.

FULL DARK HOUSE is an excellent example of this. There are elements
of mystery (ala Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie), police
procedurals, horror, history and suspense aplenty here. There is
also Fowler's trademark quirkiness. One never knows what to expect.
So it is that while FULL DARK HOUSE is the first of a projected
series of mysteries featuring Arthur Bryant and John May, it deals
with their first, and last, case.

We learn over the course of FULL DARK HOUSE that Bryant and May
have a long history together. They met up as the result of the
establishment of the London Peculiar Crimes Unit in 1940, at the
height of the German bombing of London. The founding of PCU
occurred partly from necessity and partly for publicity. Given the
frequency of the bombing to which the London populace was
subjected, the actions of some of its citizenry became more and
more bizarre, resulting in what was referred to with British
understatement as "peculiar crimes." Bryant and May, assigned to
the unit, became friends; their personal and professional
relationship has lasted over 60 years, with Bryant's unorthodox
methodology and May's more traditional police work complementing
each other nicely.

Fowler begins FULL DARK HOUSE in modern London with ... well, a
bang, literally, when the headquarters of the London Peculiar
Crimes Unit explodes with Arthur Bryant in it. May is aware that
his partner, in the days preceding his demise, had been poking
around in the files of their very first case and that somehow he
apparently awakened the spirit of a murderer who has now eliminated
one of them and seems determined to take the life of the other. May
begins retracing Bryant's movements in the few days preceding the
explosion, examining Bryant's cryptic, almost indecipherable notes
and recalling the events of their first active case in November
1940.

Bryant and May were brought to London's Palace Theater to
investigate the bizarre death of a dancer on the eve of the
presentation of a controversial production of "Orpheus in Hell."
There was initially the possibility that the death might have been
an accident; yet, as more deaths occur, by increasingly violent
means, the two men were drawn to the conclusion that they are
dealing with a cunning, unknown killer with a diabolical motive. As
May reviews the events that occurred decades before against the
backdrop of war-torn London, he gradually comes to realize that an
individual from that investigation has unexpectedly and
inexplicably reappeared to wreak havoc once again.

Fowler does a breathtaking job of recreating war-torn London from
without and within the Palace Theater, capturing not only the stoic
resignation of the public to the horrific bombing but also the
theatrical elements of the era. Fowler's descriptions of the
theater, from the staging areas, the offices and the costumes to
the actors themselves, are simply incredible. While he obviously
conducted an incredible amount of research in the writing of this
book, that fact does not fully credit Fowler's almost magical
ability to transport the reader back in time, to make the passages
in the novel read as if they were diary entries written as the
bombs fell.

The conclusion of FULL DARK HOUSE is also nothing less than
wonderful. I had to take a bit of license here not to reveal it,
but I doubt anyone reading FULL DARK HOUSE will object; the journey
here is the equal of the destination. Fowler also liberally
sprinkles cryptic references to other historical Peculiar Crimes
Unit cases, enough so that his readership can expect several more
volumes of Bryant and May mysteries in the future.

FULL DARK HOUSE is an ambitious and challenging beginning to what
will hopefully be a long-running series.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Full Dark House
by Christopher Fowler

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553803875
  • ISBN-13: 9780553803877