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Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler

Full Dark House

by Christopher Fowler

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Recently added byarena100, bug_girl, private library, ebeach, ashleytylerjohn, rdelanty, Urban.Witch, Sullwyn
  1. 00
    The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Similar in tone. Both are darkly comic detection novels with supernatural overtones and set in London. The entire Peculiar Crimes series qualifies as a recommendation.

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Starting this series after reading three of Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant stories, they're a glaringly obvious comparison: same city, same occupation, same surname shared by main characters - though slightly different occult to police from a shoestring, maverick unit of the Met. Basically, Fowler is a bit more serious - the same recognisably British comic tone hovers under the surface, but never becomes cheeky or flippant, befitting protagonists about sixty years Grant's senior. And as a friend advised, not as much magic: this is something closer to a straight historical procedural. It's also considerably more 'literary' in its writing than the Scandinavian series I've been reading recently.

I found Full Dark House deeply atmospheric at the start. Whilst they're young enough to be my oldest grandfather's sons, B&M seem part of, imbued with, ancient strata of London history. Nothing especially mystical is evoked in references, it's something more mysterious in the tone of the writing as it's quite clear that their first case started here, 1940, in a theatre. An evocative world of its own that calls up the spirits of The Red Shoes, An Awfully Big Adventure, Tony Richardson's The Entertainer and every other 50s and 60s film that was unfashionably nostalgic for the lost world of variety. (Phantom of the Opera is the most obvious reference, but due to a childhood dislike of Michael Crawford, I never wanted anything to do with that story in any medium.) Flipping between then and now in short chapters gives a spine tingling, stomach-churning sense of a favourite subject, the passing of time and all of its...
What a long way it is from those to a present where B&M's colleagues and successors have the more immediate priority of confiscating Chinese-made assault rifles from the hands of drug addled teenage yardie wannabes.
And Fowler understands how even a place as large as London can become fused in one's mind with a personality:
"'I have to get out of London.'
Finch understood. Arthur Bryant was virtually a symbol of the city. There were memories of the man and his cases almost everywhere you looked."

Somehow, gradually, the story doesn't quite live up to the mystique of the setup. Perhaps it's a bit too long and detailed. Perhaps the structure of short chapters - ideal for public transport reading - is disjointed used with a story that's only engrossing when you spend at least half an hour at a time on it. Perhaps it was the disorientating mixture of immersive historical attitude and ill-suited modernity in the Forties' characters. Perhaps it's the 'show don't tell' chestnut as far as character traits are concerned.

It plodded at times, people weren't as vivid as they could be. There's unnecessary detail at times; nonetheless I was glad this included a term I've needed for years but didn't know existed: "the maieutic process ... Socratic midwifery...You know, the easing out of ideas. You help things out of my head, things that were already there but unformed." Also learnt that 'Murder in the Red Barn', which I'd always taken to be an entirely original Tom Waits song, must have been inspired by a 1930s British film, in its turn based on a real crime a century earlier.

Full Dark House was 100-150 pages too long and sometimes silly in not a very good way. But it could be a whole lot worse. The regular cast-to-be are likeable, despite being drawn a bit clumsily in this first installment. ( )
  antonomasia | Oct 2, 2014 |
I liked this and look forward to reading more in this series. This filled my mystery, historical fiction fix and was witty as well. I do admit that as I already knew of the series, I felt fairly sure that Bryant would be revealed not to be dead by this book's end. This did fizzle the suspense a bit but the way the story is told in two threads, one in 1940 when Bryant and May first meet and work their first case (which was skeevy & creepy) and the second in the present with May trying to find out who's done in Bryant, was very well done. I loved all the parts in the past showing London life during the Blitz. It was rendered vividly and probably edged out the modern bit in enjoyment for me just a bit. The relationship between Bryant and May is fantastic and I like these two from young to old, they've been a perfect team. I'd definitely read more in this series and I'll try to make sure I go in order. ( )
  anissaannalise | Aug 9, 2014 |
Atmospheric thriller/mystery set mostly in London during the Blitz. Oddball detective Arthur Bryant and his stolid partner John May try to solve a series of murders at the Palace theater as an operetta prepares for opening night. ( )
  barlow304 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Christopher Fowler can write an interesting, intelligent, informative book.
FULL DARK HOUSE is set in London in both the present and during the blitz in November1940. It begins with the destruction of a building housing the Peculiar Crimes Unit, part of the North London Police Department. Only one person, Detective Arthur Bryant, was known to have been in the building. What remains were found were buried. Among the attendees was his longtime partner, Detective John May and Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright. John, especially, was upset that the police department wasn’t doing enough to find the person or persons who set off the bomb. The police, on the other hand, were more concerned with curbing the gang violence in the neighborhood.
John thought back to when he first met Arthur, when they were both in their early twenties. Their first case was the unusual death of a dancer in a racy version of Orpheus in the Underworld. Within days, others associated with the show were killed or disappeared. One thing the deaths had in common was they happened during bomb attacks when the city was in blackout.
I figured out part of the ending of the current part of the story. I did not do so with the 1940 section. I think it was too contrived and parts of it seemed totally impossible.
One of the best parts of FULL DARK HOUSE are the descriptions of what life was like during the Blitz: The damage to the city and its residents and how the survivors coped. A second highpoint are the descriptions of both the old theater, once home to D’Oyly Carte Gilbert and Sullivan productions. It provides a lot of wit: “Helene...had a smile so false she could have stood for Parliament.” “The young detective possessed that peculiar ability more common to elderly men, which produces negative energy around electrical equipment, turning even the most basic appliances into weapons of destruction.”
It predicts the economic future: “The days of the British owning everything on their terms is coming to an end. Future fortunes will be made with the involvement of international cartels such as ours.”
The book was a fast read. It could easily have been somewhat shorter without losing any of the story or effect.
I really don’t like books with short chapters. I think it insults the intelligence of the readers as well as wastes a lot of paper. I automatically lower my rating for such books. ( )
  Judiex | Jun 4, 2014 |
Just discovered this author-love this series! ( )
  Chatty_Cathie | May 18, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553385534, Paperback)

A bomb rips through present-day London, tragically ending the crime-fighting partnership of Arthur Bryant and John May begun more than a half-century ago during another infamous bombing: the Blitz of World War II. Desperately searching for clues to the saboteur’s identity, May finds the notes his old friend kept of their very first case and a past that may have returned…with murderous vengeance. It was an investigation that began with the grisly murder of a pretty young dancer. In a city shaken by war, a faceless killer stalked London’s theater row, creating his own sinister drama. And it would take Bryant’s unorthodox techniques and May’s dogged police work to catch a fiend whose ability to escape detection seemed almost supernatural—a murderer who decades later may have returned to kill one of them…and won’t stop until he kills the other.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:01 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

When a bomb claims the life of John May's detective partner of more than half a century, May becomes convinced that the key to the killer's identity lies in his first case together with his partner.

» see all 5 descriptions

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