The Water Room Audio CD – Apr 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Traditional mystery buffs with a taste for the offbeat will relish British author Fowler's wonderful second contemporary whodunit featuring the Peculiar Crimes Unit and its elderly odd couple, Arthur Bryant and John May (after 2004's Full Dark House). A former colleague asks the eccentric Bryant, whose lack of polish coupled with a razor-sharp mind will remind many of Carter Dickson's Sir Henry Merrivale, to investigate his sister's death. Incredibly, the victim was found dead in her basement, apparently drowned, despite the absence of any moisture on her body or her surroundings. Bryant rapidly loops in his more down-to-earth partner, May, who has also been looking into a mystery with a personal connection—the unusual nocturnal ramblings of a disgraced academic who has begun probing London's underground rivers. More strange deaths follow before the unmasking of the surprising murderer. The author's black humor evokes Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond series, and his successful revival of the impossible crime genre is reminiscent of John Sladek's superb Thackeray Phin novels, Invisible Green and Black Aura. Best known for his horror fiction (Rune, etc.), Fowler should win a whole new set of readers with these fair-play puzzlers.
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.
Britain's Fowler seems to be one of those multitalented types who can write anything and do it well. He has written edgy thrillers, wildly imaginative fantasies, and memorable short fiction; now, with the Bryant and May series (of which this is the second installment), he has come up with a clever twist on the traditional police procedural. Arthur Bryant and John May, "both far beyond the statutory retirement age," are members of London's Peculiar Crimes Unit; they've been partners for more than 50 years. You don't see many senior citizens in mystery fiction who aren't amateur sleuths, but these guys are pros, and they're about as far away from your typical kindly old meddler as you can imagine. This time they're trying to find out how an elderly woman managed to drown in her dry basement, and the plot itself proves perfectly satisfying. But the real thrill here is the delightful duo in the starring roles, two fresh and unusual characters who manage to breathe new life into an established genre in which it's getting harder and harder to find anything genuinely fresh. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Kallie Owen is terribly afraid that her relationship with her longtime boyfriend, Paul, is on its last legs. Money is short and Paul (who is in the music business and who is facing redundancy) is expressing the need to travel and see the world (without Kallie at his side) before he grows too old. Desperate for advice and a friendly ear, Kallie goes to visit an old school friend, Heather Allen, who persuades her to buy a house on her street (Balaklava Street) that's just gone on the market. The old lady, Ruth Singh, who had lived in the almost decrepit house has suddenly died, and her brother wants to make a quick sale so that he can immigrate to Australia. Carried away by Heather's enthusiasm, Kallie succumbs and buys the house. Except that things don't really work out as she had hoped. The house needs a lot of work, and this is pushing her and Paul even further apart. Add to that the rumours surrounding Ruth's unexplained and sudden death, and the unnatural interest that the Peculiar Crimes Unit seems to be taking in Ruth's death, and Kallie is beginning to wonder if she has done the right thing to buy the house. And when Kallie begins to sense a sinister presence in her house, she really beings to wonder if she's about to have a nervous breakdown or if there is something (or someone) truly evil haunting Balaklava Street...
This is the second Bryant and May, Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery novel, and it proved to be as quirky, absorbing and enjoyable a read as the first book in the series, "Full Dark House." Fast paced and with a very intriguing storyline, "The Water House" held my interest from beginning to end. It was a slightly more complex read than the usual police procedural, but it really was well worth the sticking out factor. Especially since the author had managed to make the book less dense by employing a lighter and slightly humourous prose style -- this really helped to keep things riveting from start to finish. So with a clever storyline, good prose style, excellent pacing and chock full of intriguing historical information (I especially enjoyed all the bits of history about the course of the English underground river system), Christopher Fowler's "The Water Room" can definitely be classified as a worthwhile and excellent read that should not be missed.
There are a lot of adjectives one could apply to it: clever is one, charming is another, riveting a third. The premise of the series is that the London Police Department has a peculiar crimes unit, established during World War II, and at its helm are John May and Arthur Bryant, its two founding members, now well up in years. Bryant is the more eccentric of the two, and thus, may I say, a bit more interesting --- irascible, yearning for the past, and possessed with an indispensably brilliant fuzzy logic. May is more modern, willing to change with the times, and still able to think with his little head when the opportunity arises. The men are polar opposites --- hilariously so --- and thus work perfectly together.
The crimes they investigate sometimes do not appear to be crimes at all, at least not initially. Bryant, however, ferrets out a bizarre element or three, and, after you toss in a hoard of suspects, some quietly brutal circumstances, and Bryant's ongoing penchant for providing a fascinating running commentary for whatever portion of London the team happens to be in, one has a novel that is irresistible by any standard. Think Lord Peter Wimsey meets "The X-Files," or a more sedate version of "The Avengers" with Steed as an octogenarian, and you wouldn't be far off at all.
THE WATER ROOM is an innocuous title, considering what occurs herein. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is drawn into the investigation of the death of an elderly recluse. Such a circumstance would not be unusual, or unexpected, except that the unfortunate woman drowned while sitting upright in her dry basement. Bryant and May become involved at the request of the woman's brother, whose expertise is occasionally used by the unit, even as her death is classified as undetermined and the case is officially closed. Bryant does what he does best, rudely kicking over stones and knocking on doors, leaving a disturbed domestic path among the neighbors of the woman in his wake. Meanwhile, May is unofficially investigating a civil servant who seems to have been retained by a criminal element for nefarious purposes that somehow involve London's underground lost rivers.
One can see the cases dovetailing --- or at least appearing to do so --- but Fowler's pacing, always picture-perfect, will not be rushed. His plotting is wonderful in THE WATER ROOM and yet is eclipsed by the characterization of the primary and secondary principals within. One comes to really like the people encountered on the pages, even Raymond Land, the nominal overseer of the Peculiar Crimes Unit who does his level best to simultaneously keep the unit on track while keeping a blind eye turned to what really is going on.
THE WATER ROOM stands just fine on its own. I had, however, the oddest feeling of yearning after finishing it. I wished that it was merely the latest of a long-running series, one that I had only just discovered, so that I could go read the 40 or 50 volumes that had come before while waiting for the next installment to be released. Indeed, Fowler has published several novels and short story collections previous to THE WATER ROOM. With respect to the Bryant and May books, however, there is, alas, only one other --- last year's brilliant FULL DARK HOUSE. For now, let us be grateful for what we have, and hope for a long and happy life for the series.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
He HAS successfully mixed a light, humorous tone with the gravity of age, and of course the (peculiar) strangeness of his plots. Bryant is pretty decrepit, physically having some difficulty, and his mind is as disorderly as ever, sharp and even visionary though his memory has declined a bit. May is fairly strong, both physically and mentally, despite his years. Neither show any signs of quitting. Far from being alarmed that they might drop dead any moment, I delight that they are still so vital.
The old detectives are a novel twist, which gives this series a unique quality, which perhaps Baby Boomers can well appreciate. We will be entering those golden years soon, and we want to make the best of a bad situation, charge on to the best of our ability, and enjoy life fully. Bryant and May are perfect models for a Spirit of Winter, growing old gracefully.
I particularly liked Water Room in part because its plot depicts a dark and (again) decrepit London, with heavy winter rains, mud and mold above, dark secrets, and mysterious, dangerous tunnels beneath their feet. This novel involves the inhabitants of all the houses on the street, so the relationships can be quite tangled. As the story slowly reveals the truth, residence on this street begins to seem very hazardous, and even our protagonists lives are in danger.
I must say, one of my favorite reads!