Last Thursday (26th March), the latest instalment of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series was released. The Burning Man continues the incredibly popular crime series starring John May and Arthur Bryant – a pair of brilliant but aging detectives who run the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London.
Right, I am a complete newbie to your Bryant & May series so I’m curious about EVERYTHING! Firstly, what are your 3 favourite things about your main characters Arthur Bryant and John May?
I like the fact that their age is a passport to opening doors. I like the way they disagree all the time but find a way to agree, the way you do with your oldest friend. And I like the fact that they can get away with doing shocking things because people respect them for being ‘bad old boys’.
Hehe, yes, it’s amazing what we let our elders get away with sometimes! So what inspired you to invent the Peculiar Crimes Unit? (Assuming you invented them – I’ve not heard of the department in real life!!)
My father was a scientist who worked in an experimental wartime communications unit, very much like the PCU. He and his colleagues were very young, and were working towards a discovery that later changed the world. The full story is told in my memoir ‘Paperboy’, which he sadly didn’t live to read.
Wow, that sounds exciting – you kind of forget that departments like that really exist out of movie theatres because they’re so rarely talked about. (Probably down to them being Top Secret I expect!)
Is crime a favourite genre for you to write? I know you have written lots of different things over the years – do you have favourites or just enjoy mixing it up?
I send PRs crazy constantly changing what I write – I’m just about to have my first SF story published – so yes, you could say I love mixing it! But crime is fun because it’s problem solving, and that’s very satisfying. There’s a lovely quote from Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb, who said ‘There is nothing more satisfying than showing that something is impossible, then proving how it can be done.’ That was what interested me about crime writing from an early age.
The Bryant & May books are set in London – is it a London we will recognise or has it been changed for the books?
I think there’s a lot that’s very recognisable, not just in buildings and streets but in atmosphere. London‘s pace of change accelerates but we remain Londoners, because London is a spiritual state. We don’t make London, London makes us. We’ve only been here for 5 minutes before we’re standing our ground while apologizing for being in the way. Everyone recognises that.
I am really looking forward to reading The Burning Man and I really love the front cover – is it hard deciding what to put on the front of a book? Do you have it visualised in your head when you are writing it or does someone else help you come up with the ideas?
I lucked out with illustrator David Frankland, who catches the tone exactly – I’m not a huge fan of the US covers mainly because they have less weight. I usually suggest an idea or two to David, and then get out of the way fast. He’s come up with the right image every time so far.
That’s handy! Must have been such a relief to find someone so attuned to your books.
It sounds like there are going to be a fair few fireworks in The Burning Man – what lured you into the idea of using fire as a theme?
That was because I live in a flat in King’s Cross, and every November, between Guy Fawkes Night and Diwali it seems like the entire city is playing with fire. I also thought of fire as a cleansing spirit, which is how it’s used in the book’s murders…and I’ve done a water novel; ‘The Water Room’.
Finally, just for fun, if you were going to a dinner party and could have any three fictional characters there as well, who would you choose? And what would be on the dessert menu?
I would choose Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Brady, the most underrated female detective of them all, Lyra from ‘The Amber Spyglass’ because I like strong girls who know their minds, and Gervase Fen, the very funny lecturer/detective from Edmund Crispin’s wonderful murder mysteries. And as I don’t do dessert, we’d have the cheeseboard and a lot more wine!
I like the sound of that dessert – Thank you, Christopher!
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Burning Man as soon as I read the blurb – not something that usually happens with me mid-series! But then I am a bit of a sucker for anything with fire in it…
Bryant & May and The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler
London is under siege. A banking scandal has filled the city with violent protests, and as the anger in the streets detonates, a young homeless man burns to death after being caught in the crossfire between rioters and the police.
But all is not as it seems; an opportunistic killer is using the chaos to exact revenge, but his intended victims are so mysteriously chosen that the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to find a way of stopping him.
Using their network of eccentric contacts, elderly detectives Arthur Bryant and John May hunt down a murderer who adopts incendiary methods of execution. But they soon find their investigation taking an apocalyptic turn as the case comes to involve the history of mob rule, corruption, rebellion, punishment and the legend of Guy Fawkes.
At the same time, several members of the PCU team reach dramatic turning points in their lives – but the most personal tragedy is yet to come, for as the race to bring down a cunning killer reaches its climax, Arthur Bryant faces his own devastating day of reckoning.