Book Review: Wild Chamber by Christopher Fowler

Wild Chamber (Bryant & May, #14)Wild Chamber by Christopher Fowler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a huge fan of the Bryant & May novels by Christopher Fowler and have read them all with relish. They’re particularly fun for me as a Londoner and a history nerd. The author blends historical fact with fiction so well that on occasion I have found myself fact-checking several of the novels in order to distinguish between historical fact and flights of the author’s fancy.

Crime buffs will notice straight away that this story is a variation on a classic crime set up; the locked room mystery. A variation that could only really work in a London setting. The author does a great job of misleading the reader with several red herrings, and I didn’t start to zero in the the killer and his motive until the last few chapters. Even then it remained a rather nebulous notion until the denouement, when all was revealed.

Film nerds might also notice a passing resemblance to a certain 1960’s art house movie starring David Hemming. It was an impression that was with me right from the start, so it was immensely satisfying, in the last third of the book, to see Arthur Bryant attend a screening of that very film.

Speaking of Arthur Bryant, he is on sparkling, bonkers form as usual, but I couldn’t help feeling that John May was very much fading in to the background of this story, almost to the point where he was little more than a device to prop up the narrative in some of the chapters.

Another criticism I have of this outing for the PCU is the inclusion of Raymond Land’s memo to his staff. It was overly long, and I found myself able to skip most of it, without it impacting on my ability to understand the plot. Raymond’s neuroses and incompetence are usually the source of much of the series’ humour, but in this case it was done to death. I also felt the scenes in which the author chose to present dialogue in a script-like format similarly dull to read.

Finally, whilst I realise that having the PCU permanently under threat from the Machiavellian shenanigans of the civil service adds pace and a sense of threat to the plot, once you’ve read more than a few of the novels it gets a bit tired. I can’t help but hope that one day Bryant & May will called to investigate the grisly demise of one Leslie Faraday, especially if Raymond Land is the one found standing over the corpse, bloody knife in hand.

Despite those criticisms this was still a great outing for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, with all the expected eccentrics and geeks fans have come to expect, as well as plenty of spot on observations of the utter lunacy of London life.


NaNoWriMo 2017: Creating A World

Last year I mothballed an idea for a science fiction who-dunnit, featuring a law enforcement officer who is framed for the assassination of an alien diplomat.

Recently I decided to reprise the idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and in preparation I’ve been scouring the web for some visual inspiration. This is often how ideas start in my head, with a visual clue, or jumping off point, and I find it very useful to hang on to those clues, if for no other reason than to make sure my imagination doesn’t get too carried away!

For this story I had a pretty specific idea already of what my setting would look like; a high density alien city of ancient origin, built in and on a long dead volcano. Finally, I wanted it to be surrounded by a lake, or shallow sea.

Desktop wallpapers are a great source of inspiration for landscapes and cityscapes so I headed over to AlphaCoders to browse their impressive collection. Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for, or as near as damn it at least.

This fabulous image reminds me of a painting by John Constable and I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the old French style chateau with its compact, masonry walls and tiled roofs, and the gleaming, high concept towers that appear to be growing out of the rock, just as a city half buried in an extinct volcano would do.

The chateau in particular intrigues me. I know I don’t have to stick to every detail of the image, but the story involves not just the murder of an alien ambassador, but also a cold case. That cold case is the strange death of an elderly astronomer, and I need somewhere for an old man to call home. A crumbling chateau, or perhaps something a little more modest, but equally ancient, could be perfect.

Next I need to find my principal characters…


The Hollow

The Hollow was written for a Scribophile Flash Fiction contest and published in Heater Magazine on April 14th, 2015.

Excerpt

There was an empty space across the street where the girl once stood. It wasn’t a particularly interesting piece of pavement, framed by a pub and a betting shop, spattered with chewing gum and cigarette butts. It had been the girl who had made the space beautiful.

Every day for nearly a year she had stood there, playing her guitar for money. As regular as his heartbeat, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, the sounds of Flamenco had filled the narrow street and Vadis had listened. There was a tube station a few hundred feet away and Vadis had wondered at first why she didn’t play there, but commuters lived in a world of their own, with their headphones and their mobile phones. Her music was wasted on them. The drunks and the gamblers were her audience instead, unlikely appreciators on the sublime.

No-one had known her name. He’d asked around. No-one even recalled speaking to her. Perhaps she didn’t speak English. On the few occasions Vadis had plucked up the courage to cross the street and drop a few coins in to her guitar case, she had merely smiled her thanks and played on. It was a smile he would have emptied his bank account for.

To read the full story you can download Heater Magazine from Amazon.