Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1)

Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1)

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by Christopher Fowler
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An absolutely riveting account of London during the Blitz."—Booklist

"Atmospheric, hugely beguiling and as filled with tricks and sleights of hand as a magician's sleeve...it is English gothic at its eccentric best; a combination of Ealing comedy and grand opera: witty, charismatic, occasionally touching and with a genuine power to thrill." —Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"A first class thriller, but don't expect any sleep." —Sunday Telegraph

"The writing is as ever fluid and pacey, the characterization deft and the plot fresh and ingenious." —Independent on Sunday

"The intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama..... The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading"—Publishers Weekly

“How many locked-room puzzles can the duo unlock before their Peculiar Crimes Unit is disbanded? Many more, one hopes.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A madcap mystery that’s completely crazy and great fun.” —Los Angeles Times

“Chris Fowler is a master of the classical form.” —New Y ork Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly
It's no surprise to find plenty of gothic touches in British author Fowler's debut mystery, the first in a series, given the renown of his horror fiction (Rune, etc.). When 80-year-old police detective Arthur Bryant gets blown up in an explosion at the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit headquarters, his longtime partner, John May, investigates his death. After some long, lecturing dialogue and an early chapter told from the viewpoint of a character who turns out to be of no consequence, the author reaches the core of his story-a flashback to the duo's first case during the London Blitz. In late 1940, the Palace Theatre is staging a production of Orpheus in the Underworld when the body of a dancer is found, sans feet. From this point forward, the intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama. The potency of Greek myth, conjured up by the opera being staged, is skillfully played out in the detectives' theories about the killer. The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading, while the hubris of a police underling, Sidney Biddle, provides additional tension. Both past and present plots reach satisfying resolutions. Now that Fowler has set the stage, no doubt his second Bryant and May mystery will get off to a better start. Agent, Howard Morhaim. (June 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When octogenarian detective Arthur Bryant is killed in an explosion at the headquarters of the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit (think The X-Files), his equally aged partner. John May, must reexamine their very first case in order to solve the crime. London in 1940 is under siege from German bombs, but in the theater the show must go on even when a serial killer is dispatching the cast members of Orpheus in the Underworld with gruesome panache. Combining Bryant's unorthodox methods (consulting psychics) with May's more traditional police training, the duo eventually uncover the murderer. Could it be possible that the killer has returned 60 years later to wreak revenge? Despite a contrived, predictable ending, this darkly atmospheric first mystery introduces two most unusual detectives and nicely sets the Grand Guignol terror of a Phantom of the Opera-like plot against the dramatic backdrop of a city devastated by war. Fowler, who writes tales of urban horror (The Devil in Me), lives in London.-Wilda Williams, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This mystery features the impending retirement of a Scotland Yard detective and the death of another. When Arthur Bryant is apparently blown up, his erstwhile partner, John May, begins reflecting on their first case together more than 60 years earlier. May, a raw recruit of 19, and Bryant, a 23-year-old detective, became the core of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, created to handle cases that were too important to ignore, yet that somehow seemed disproportionately insignificant in the face of the hundreds of civilians killed each night during the Blitz. Both men had been hurried through training and were suddenly faced with the strange case of the Palace Phantom, a killer victimizing the cast in an elaborate production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. May was both intrigued by and dismayed at Bryant's methods and seeming flights of fancy. He used everything from crime-scene forensics to spiritualists to help him build his case. Fowler skillfully shifts the action between 1940 and the 21st century, building suspense and growing awareness as each case comes to its respective climax. Not surprisingly, they are connected. The details of wartime London and the destruction and deprivation of daily life are vividly conveyed. Today's teens will identify with the young lives so drastically affected by the war while following the clues, and red herrings, to a satisfactory conclusion.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bombs from the Blitz echo in an incendiary blast that takes the life of an octogenarian detective in 21st-century London: a compelling kickoff to a new series. Detective Arthur Bryant has worked with Detective John May in the Peculiar Crimes Unit since 1940, when the two confronted their first peculiar crime together: At the historical Palace Theatre, a dancer in a sensational opera was poisoned and lost her feet. The regular police took one look at the dancer's Austrian connections, the producer's Greek background, and the potential effect on wartime London's morals and morale and immediately passed the case to the newly formed PCU. Bryant, an eccentric, brilliant thinker, saw mythological connections; May chased phantoms on motorcycles through the blackout. Bryant, now an old man, decides to write his memoirs, beginning, as May discovers while sorting through the wreckage of the blast that killed Bryant, with the Palace case. Did someone care enough about a 60-year-old mystery to stop Bryant forcibly? An architectural rendering of the Palace, preserved because absent-minded Bryant left it in a copying machine, provides a clue for May as he resolves the old crime once more and the new crime once and for all. Bryant and May's enduring partnership combines newfangled forensic science with old-fashioned occultism, imagination with derring-do, and a sense of mission with the devastating effects of chaos. Agent: Mandy Little

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553385533
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/30/2008
Series:
Peculiar Crimes Unit Series, #1
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
282,904
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Out With A Bang

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 featured on a poster for condoms opposite the tube station.

As the dissonance pulsed the atmosphere it fractured the city’s fragile caul of civilization, recalling another time of London bombs. Then, as now, dust and debris had speckled down through the clear cool air between the buildings, whitening the roads and drifting in the morning sunlight like dandelion seeds. For a split second, the past and the present melted together.

It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured.

Or so it seemed at first.

When Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright received the phone call, her first thought was that she had overslept and missed the start of her shift. Then she remembered that she had just celebrated her retirement from the police force. Years of being woken at odd hours had taught her to focus her attention within three rings of the bedside telephone. Rubbing dreams from her head, she glanced at the clock and listened to the urgent voice in her ear. She rose from the side of her future husband, made her way quietly (as quietly as she could; she was heavy-footed and far from graceful) through the flat, dressed and drove to the offices above Mornington Crescent tube station.

Or rather, she drove to what was left of them, because the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit had, to all intents and purposes, been obliterated. The narrow maze of rooms that had existed in the old Edwardian house above the station was gone, and in its place wavered fragments of burning lath-and-plaster alcoves. The station below was untouched, but nothing remained of the department that had been Longbright’s working home.

She made her way between the fire engines, stepping across spit-sprays from snaked hosepipes, and tried to discern the extent of the damage. It was one of those closed-in mornings that would barely bother to grow light. Grey cloud fitted as tightly over the surrounding terraces as a saucepan lid, and the rain that dampened the churning smoke obscured her view. The steel-reinforced door at the entrance to the unit had been blown out. Firemen were picking their way back down the smouldering stairs as she approached. She recognized several of the officers who were taping off the pavement and road beyond, but there was no sign of the unit’s most familiar faces.

An ominous coolness crept into the pit of her stomach as she watched the yellow-jacketed salvage team clearing a path through the debris. She dug into the pocket of her overcoat, withdrew her mobile and speed-dialled the first of the two numbers that headed her list. Eight rings, twelve rings, no answer.

Arthur Bryant had no voicemail system at home. Longbright had ceased encouraging him to record messages after his ‘static surge’ experiments had magnetized the staff of a British Telecom call centre in Rugby. She tried the second number. After six rings, John May’s voice told her to leave a message. She was about to reply when she heard him behind her.

‘Janice, you’re here.’ May’s black coat emphasized his wide shoulders and made him appear younger than his age (he was somewhere in his eighties—no one was quite sure where). His white hair was hidden under a grey woollen hat. Streaks of charcoal smeared his face and hands, as though he was preparing to commit an act of guerrilla warfare.

‘John, I was just calling you.’ Longbright was relieved to see someone she recognized. ‘What on earth happened?’

The elderly detective looked shaken but uninjured, a thankfully late arrival at the blast scene. ‘I have absolutely no idea. The City of London Anti-terrorist Unit has already discounted political groups. There were no call signs of any sort.’ He looked back at the ruined building. ‘I left the office at about ten last night. Arthur wanted to stay on. Arthur . . .’ May widened his eyes at the blasted building as if seeing it for the first time. ‘He always says he doesn’t need to sleep.’

‘You mean he’s inside?’ asked Longbright.

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘Are you sure he was still there when you left?’

‘No question about it. I rang him when I got home. He told me he was going to work right through the night. Said he wasn’t tired and wanted to clear the backlog. You know how he is after a big case, he opens a bottle of Courvoisier and keeps going until dawn. His way of celebrating. Mad at his age. There was something in his voice . . .’

‘What do you mean?’

May shook his head. ‘I don’t know. As though he wanted to talk to me but changed his mind, that weird hesitation thing he does on the phone. Some officers in an ARV from the Holmes Road division saw him standing at the window at around four thirty. They made fun of him, just as they always do. He opened the window and told them to bugger off, threw a paperweight at them. I should have stayed with him.’

‘Then we would have lost both of you,’ said Longbright. She looked up at the splintered plaster and collapsed brickwork. ‘I mean, he can’t still be alive.’

‘I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.’

A tall young man in a yellow nylon jacket came over. Liberty DuCaine was third-generation Caribbean, currently attached to the unit in a forensic team with two young Indian women, the brightest students from their year. Liberty hated his name, but his brother Fraternity, who was also in the force, hated his more. Longbright raised her hand.

‘Hey, Liberty. Do they have any idea why—’

‘An incendiary device of some kind, compact but very powerful. You can see from here how clean the blast pattern is. Very neat. It destroyed the offices but hasn’t even singed the roof of the station.’ The boy’s impatience to explain his ideas resulted in a staccato manner of speech that May had trouble keeping up with. ‘There are some journalists sniffing around, but they won’t get anything. You OK?’

‘Arthur couldn’t have got out in time.’

‘I know that. They’ll find him, but we’re waiting for a JCB to start moving some of the rafters. They haven’t picked up anything on the sound detectors and I don’t think they will, ’cos the place came down like a pack of cards. There’s not a lot holding these old houses in one piece, see.’ Liberty looked away, embarrassed to be causing further discomfort.

Longbright started walking towards the site, but May gently held her back. ‘Let me take you home, Janice,’ he offered.

She shrugged aside the proffered hand. ‘I’m all right, I just didn’t think it would end like this. It is the end, isn’t it?’ Longbright was already sure of the answer. Arthur Bryant and John May were men fashioned by routines and habits. They had closed a case and stayed on to analyse the results, catching up, enjoying each other’s company. It was what they always did, their way of starting afresh. Everyone knew that. John had left the building first, abandoning his insomniac partner.

‘Who’s conducting the search? They’ll have to verify—’

‘The fire department’s first priority is to make sure it’s safe,’ said Liberty. ‘Of course they’ll report their findings as quickly as possible. Anything I hear, you’ll know. John’s right, you should go home, there’s nothing you can do.’

May stared up at the building, suddenly unsure of himself.

Longbright watched the column of rusty smoke rising fast in the still grey air. She felt disconnected from the events surround- ing her. It was the termination of a special partnership; their names had been inextricably linked, Bryant, May, Longbright. Now she had left and Bryant was gone, leaving May alone. She had spent so much time in their company that the detectives were more familiar than her closest relatives, like friendly monochrome faces in old films. They had been, and would always be, her family.

Longbright realized she was crying even before she registered the shout, as though time had folded back on itself. A fireman was calling from the blackened apex of the building. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, would not allow herself to hear it. As she ran towards the ruins with the fire officers at her heels, the familiar codes started passing through the rescue group.

A single body, an elderly white male, had been located in the wreckage. For Arthur Bryant and John May, an unorthodox alliance had come to a violent end. They were her colleagues, her mentors, her closest friends. She would not allow herself to believe that Bryant was dead.

An immolation had joined the end to the beginning, past and present blown together. John May had always sensed that routine demise would not be enough for his partner. They had just closed a sad, cruel case, their last together. There were no more outstanding enemies. Bryant had finally started thinking about retirement as the unit headed for a period of radical change, sanctioned by new Home Office policies. He and May had been discussing them only the Friday before, during their customary evening walk to the river. May thought back to their conversation, trying to recall whether they had spoken of anything unusual. They had strolled to Waterloo Bridge at sunset, arguing, joking, at ease in each other’s company.

John and Arthur, inseparable, locked together by proximity to death, improbable friends for life.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"An absolutely riveting account of London during the Blitz."—Booklist

"Atmospheric, hugely beguiling and as filled with tricks and sleights of hand as a magician's sleeve...it is English gothic at its eccentric best; a combination of Ealing comedy and grand opera: witty, charismatic, occasionally touching and with a genuine power to thrill." —Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"A first class thriller, but don't expect any sleep." —Sunday Telegraph

"The writing is as ever fluid and pacey, the characterization deft and the plot fresh and ingenious." —Independent on Sunday

"The intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama..... The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading"—Publishers Weekly

“How many locked-room puzzles can the duo unlock before their Peculiar Crimes Unit is disbanded? Many more, one hopes.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A madcap mystery that’s completely crazy and great fun.” —Los Angeles Times

“Chris Fowler is a master of the classical form.” —New Y ork Times Book Review

Meet the Author

Christopher Fowler is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Full Dark House and nine other Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries: The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant & May off the Rails, The Memory of Blood, and The Invisible Code. He lives in London, where he is at work on his next Peculiar Crimes Unit novel.

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Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
KKR More than 1 year ago
I have spent many weeks in London over the years, so I was prepared to like this first in a series of novels about an offbeat crime-solving team in that city. I read this novel and its sequels with my A to Z street guide in hand. While the present time focus is on a terrorist bombing of their headquarters, or so it seems, the back story tells of the very first case the detective team of Bryant and May ever worked on together, at a theater during the Blitz in 1942. It was engrossing--both complex and inventive, but also humorous and ironic. I immediately ordered every other novel in the series, and I am now on the latest, published in November 2008,called The Victoria Vanishes. The Victoria in question is not the train station, as I had first believed, nor the express train to Brighton from that station or to and from Gatwick, but a pub named the Victoria Cross. As befits Bryant's (and Fowler's) fascination with London, we need a history of London pubs in order to solve the pub murders accurately. I hope these old guys go on forever.
cincmom More than 1 year ago
A little slow at the start but I couldn't put the book down after the first 50 or so pages. Nice character development.
ManiB More than 1 year ago
Fowler is a wonderful author and the first book in his Bryant and May goes to prove that. You'll be left guessing up until the very end and love every moment of it. The characters are dynamic and it has been an absolute treat to have stumbled across this author.
SkatesNYC More than 1 year ago
This book was great! It had great quirky characters, history, humor. Cant wait to read the rest of the series.
BookWorm8 More than 1 year ago
I read books from several genres but I haven't picked up a mystery in a while. This book got me completely hooked on mysteries again! I've already bought another book from the same author to read. The appealing quality is the flashbacks to WWII era London juxtaposed with current terrorist situations in London. The similarities and differences from each era are very interesting. Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book cover caught my eye I must admit. (I'm all about the marketing.) I found it slow going. Usually, I am a very fast reader, but just couldn't get into this one. I've picked it up and put it back down about three times now and am only about 1/4 of the way through. I will finish it eventually, but just haven't found myself that interested. I normally start and finish a book in a day, but this one hasn't grabbed me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright learns from long time Detective John May that an explosion killed his peer Detective Arthur Bryant. John and Arthur first met when the Peculiar Crimes Unit was established in 1940 and they investigated a weird murder of a dancer at the Palace Theatre. That case with its odd occult like feel forms the start of a long time friendship and partnership.................................. Now both octogenarians, it appears that Arthur was writing his memoirs when a six decades old bomb from the World War II Blitz exploded and killed him. John, who had talked to his buddy just prior to his death, finds a design of the Palace amongst the ruins of Bryant¿s residence. Was his partner killed because someone wants the sixty plus years old crime to remain cold or was this just an accident caused by the victim¿s own absent minded brilliant lifestyle? John believes murder has occurred and he plans to prove it...................................... FULL DARK HOUSE is a terrific police procedural that uses an occult like homicide from 1940 as the motive for a modern day killing. The story line is driven by the octogenarian John and to a degree supplemented by his long time detective partner Arthur though the latter is dead and appears more as either flashback thoughts or the victim. The sleuthing is fabulous and the support cast realistically add depth to the hero, but when all is said and done this novel belongs to dedicated John, who somewhat obsessed in solving his pal¿s death hopefully is around for a decade or two solving more London murders............................... Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 3 months ago
They story's main characters are likeable quirky and the writer can set a good mood. But for me, the story moved too slow, the British terminology and theater references were confusing, and worst of all - the ending felt like a cheat. I won't be in a hurry to busy another. Not to my liking. Sorry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great start to a great series. They do get better as well.
pat99 More than 1 year ago
I rarely stop reading a book once i've started, but this one was just not very compelling. It starts with a newly retired female detective, which is interesting, except then the book has almost nothing to do with her. Then we get the two main character detectives, who are pretty interesting. But the mystery is not very interesting, and the author does not make it clear which of the many dull characters in the theater we should be remembering, or paying attention to, or anything. We don't have enough information to like or dislike them or even care. Meanwhile, we are given many, many details of items that exist in old theaters, but it is not clear which of these we should remember, or if they are important at all. I heard good things about this series, so I was very disappointed in the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A two for one! Jumping back and forth between eras trying to solve crimes of past and present! The reader must stay engaged so as not to miss the important clues along the way!
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Good characters and interesting plot
MCCJ More than 1 year ago
Well put together storyline with engaging characters. Good read.
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