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Full Dark House [Hardcover]

Christopher Fowler
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 2004
Edgy, suspenseful, and darkly comic, here is the first novel in a riveting new mystery series starring two cranky but brilliant old detectives whose lifelong friendship was forged solving crimes for the London Police Department's Peculiar Crimes Unit. In Full Dark House, Christopher Fowler tells the story of both their first and last case—and how along the way the unlikely pair of crime fighters changed the face of detection.

A present-day bombing rips through London and claims the life of eighty-year-old detective Arthur Bryant. For his partner John May, it means the end of a partnership that lasted over half-a-century and an eerie echo back to the Blitz of World War II when they first met. Desperately searching for clues to the killer's identity, May finds his old friend's notes of their very first case and becomes convinced that the past has returned...with a killing vengeance.

It begins when a dancer in a risque new production of Orpheus in Hell is found without her feet. Suddenly, the young detectives are plunged in a bizarre gothic mystery that will push them to their limits—and beyond. For in a city shaken by war, a faceless killer is stalking London's theaters, creating his own kind of sinister drama. And it will take Arthur Bryant's unorthodox techniques and John May's dogged police work to catch a criminal whose ability to escape detection seems almost supernatural--a murderer who even decades later seems to have claimed the life of one of them...and is ready to claim the other.

Filled with startling twists, unforgettable characters, and a mystery that will keep you guessing, Full Dark House is a witty, heartbreaking, and all-too-human thriller about the hunt for an inhuman killer.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover
Christopher Fowler has had a long and distinguished literary career. FULL DARK HOUSE is the tenth of his published novels. He has also written and published over 100 works of shorter fiction, most of which appear in nine different collections, as well as MENZ INSANA, a fine graphic novel. Fowler's work is quite diverse; while it may stray into the mystery, suspense or even dark fantasy genres, he is impossible to pigeonhole.
FULL DARK HOUSE is an excellent example of this. There are elements of mystery (ala Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie), police procedurals, horror, history and suspense aplenty here. There is also Fowler's trademark quirkiness. One never knows what to expect. So it is that while FULL DARK HOUSE is the first of a projected series of mysteries featuring Arthur Bryant and John May, it deals with their first, and last, case.
We learn over the course of FULL DARK HOUSE that Bryant and May have a long history together. They met up as the result of the establishment of the London Peculiar Crimes Unit in 1940, at the height of the German bombing of London. The founding of PCU occurred partly from necessity and partly for publicity. Given the frequency of the bombing to which the London populace was subjected, the actions of some of its citizenry became more and more bizarre, resulting in what was referred to with British understatement as "peculiar crimes." Bryant and May, assigned to the unit, became friends; their personal and professional relationship has lasted over 60 years, with Bryant's unorthodox methodology and May's more traditional police work complementing each other nicely.
Fowler begins FULL DARK HOUSE in modern London with ... well, a bang, literally, when the headquarters of the London Peculiar Crimes Unit explodes with Arthur Bryant in it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars terrific police procedural June 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
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
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, Funny and Factual Oct. 12 2009
By Dave and Joe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Full Dark House is one of those unusual books of historical fiction (although a significant amount of the story takes place in present day) that manages historical accuracy with a hysterical sense of humour. The characters are wonderfully drawn, the times (present and past) wryly described. I enjoyed the play between past and present and I enjoyed the presentation of two men across a lifetime. This is an ambitious novel though it is carried off in a way that makes it seem easily written. I've bought all the books in the series and am going through them one at a time. A lovely discovery. Well worth your time.
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