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Crime thriller set in London (an incendiary mixture …)

12th April 2015

The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler – crime thriller set in London.

IMG_0552The Burning Man is, I am slightly embarrassed to report, the first Bryant and May detective novel that I have read (and there are eleven others…). Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit – a body set up during WW2 to investigate cases that could cause ‘national scandal or public unrest’. And they both have elements of policing in WW2 about them… they are old fashioned coppers in a modern world. A great deal of the pleasure in the book comes from trying to understand the complex relationship between the two of them, and the equally complex relationship between the two of them and the modern London police force. They, and the Peculiar Crimes Unit, are anachronisms. They clash with authority, they refuse orders, and yet they solve crimes. It is hard – and this in one of the joys of the book – to work what is meant to be serious and what is meant to be amusing. The names, Bryant and May (as in the UK match manufacturer), are obviously a joke – especially for detectives investigating murders where fire is a key part of the plot. And it is hard to take the Peculiar Crimes Unit seriously… Yes, somewhat oddly, much of the story rings true or at least plausible. It is a real page turner. A young homeless man is burnt to death during anti capitalist riots in the City of London, and other very violent ‘incendiary’ murders follow. A corporate banker is tarred and feathered, and dies in the resulting fire in a shop in Brixton market. A, thankfully unconscious, ‘charity’ entrepreneur is killed in his Belgravia flat when a replica of a red hot medieval torture mask is forced onto to his head – and his flesh chars. I could go on, but you probably get the idea…(and we don’t want too many spoilers…). The book moves at pace, and the denouement is both surprising (in that I hadn’t seen it coming) and also very clever.

The Burning Man is a perfect book for TripFiction to review. Location is so important. Christopher Fowler is a Londoner through and through, and his love for the city and its ways is wonderful to behold. Christopher lives in the newly re-developed Kings Cross area – where the somewhat decrepit offices of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are also located. He captures brilliantly the changed and changing feel of the locale. But he is equally at home in the twisted back alleys of the City, the market in Brixton, or in a posh mansion block in Belgravia. The Burning Man is very much a London book – and Christopher clearly knows his way around.

Very definitely a good and exciting read, and ideal for anyone visiting London (providing they don’t scare too easily!).

Tony for the TripFiction team

We asked Christopher for his feelings on London and the influence the city has on his writing. Here is what he told us:

‘I’m a born Londoner and spent my childhood charging around the West End – a favourite trick was sneaking into theatres via the scenery docks to watch rehearsals – but each discovery I made about the city revealed the tip of something else. There’s a lot of lazy writing about London, but if you poke about and talk to people you discover incredible riches. Before I do the deep library research I walk around and get a feel for the current book’s theme. ‘The Bleeding Heart’ started from watching office workers on lunch breaks sitting on gravestones without any idea of who was buried beneath them. ‘The Burning Man’ began after getting caught up in the anti-capitalist protests around the Bank of England and thinking, ‘Now there’s a good place to get away with a murder.’

The unlikeliest elements are mined from London’s forgotten lore; tales of lost paintings, demonised celebrities, buried sacrifices, mysterious guilds and social panics. Why would anyone make up stories from scratch when there are so many events in London’s past waiting to be brought into the light?

The city offers more anachronistic juxtapositions than most European places – you’re likely to find a church on the site of a brothel – and it’s important to find a way of reflecting this. And London is changing in my lifetime. The city has only just been lit up. Before the mid-1980s it was steeped in shadows. We lost something when the lights were turned up, and I try to recapture that sense’.

You can visit Christopher Fowler on his website – and you can follow him on Twitter

And do drop by and connect with the Team at TripFiction via social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.

For a top selection of books to evoke London, just click here … Happy reading!



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