Book Review - The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

I received The Water Room by Christopher Fowler from Transworld as part of their reading challenge. The idea is that you pick four books from a selection of twelve and they send you the first, which you read and then review before they send you the second, and so on. I picked The Water Room because it sounded like my kind of book – a sort of crime thriller with a mystery twist to it.

I had never heard of Christopher Fowler before reading this and so I had no idea that the book was part of a series. The Water Room is actually the second in the Bryant and May series of Mysteries. Having read it without this knowledge, I can safely say that it isn’t necessary to read the previous book to enjoy this one. Fowler introduces the characters and their circumstances at the beginning of the book sufficiently enough that you don’t feel that you have missed out.

Arthur Bryant and John May are octogenarian detectives who work in the fictional Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the unit was indeed fictional as I would have loved for it to have been a real thing. The unit is an offspring of the Metropolitan Police and takes on the bizarre crimes that are too time-consuming for the Met to investigate. In this particular story, the case involves an old lady who is found dead in her basement. Her death appears to be completely natural aside from the odd fact that she has a throat full of river water.
I’ll be honest, I found this book a little difficult to get into at first, not really warming to the character of Arthur Bryant. He is a typical old school detective who is methodical to the point of being obtuse, is arrogant and refuses to embrace anything that has happened in the last thirty years. Bryant was just a little bit too annoying for me to enjoy reading the book. However, not one to give up on a book, I decided to start again after reading a few chapters and I’m very glad I did. Once I got used to the obscure character, I actually quite warmed to him. He kind of reminded me of Columbo (the TV detective), in that he wanders around in his own little world, seemingly with no objective, but seeing things that others don’t and having that strange imagination that makes anything possible. It was quite enjoyable to read his thought processes and to wonder where he was going with his investigations.

John May is the polar opposite of Bryant; he embraces all things modern; is gregarious and outgoing, in stark contrast to Bryant’s solitary style; and he is a bit of an old womaniser. To be honest, even though he is part of the duo, I thought he was a bit of a secondary character really. May‘s character fit in very well with Bryant, acting to tame the latter where others can’t and being able to handle him where others prefer to steer clear. The two obviously have a long standing partnership both in and out of work and it is this that makes them such a good twosome. I’d be interested to read the other books in the series to see whether May takes the lead in other stories as it would be nice to learn a little bit more about him.

The story is rather different to the usual detective novel script, very much thanks to the Peculiar Crimes Unit angle. I think Fowler has come up with a great idea with this one as it allows him to be a little more adventurous with the storyline. There is much less need to stick to the factual workings of the police and he can use a little more artistic licence, which he has to great effect. The story takes us back to a London where Jack the Ripper was still roaming the streets and many of the streets were actually rivers. There is a hint of a ghost story involved and I must admit that I found it quite eerie in places. I wouldn’t have liked to have read it when I was in the house on my own, that’s for sure.

Fowler is good at painting a picture through the eyes of his main characters. I really felt at times that I was in the places he described and he does just enough to let your mind run away with you. There were lots of twists and turns in the story and I was guessing until the end, which is always good. In true ‘whodunit’ style, there are lots of possible suspects, all with a good motive and I found it impossible to guess which one it would be until the end. There are many different characters, each with their own little story and sinister secrets and Fowler does an excellent job of weaving them all together to create an enjoyable story and a good read.

I’m glad that I gave the book a second chance, because it turned out to be a good read and I am actually looking forward to reading the others in the series – they are definitely going on my Amazon wish list!

The Water Room was published by Transworld in paperback in 2005 and is available on Amazon for £7.19


Christopher Fowler said...

Thank you for a very fair and balanced review. I think i takes a while to get to know Arthur Bryant, but once you get him, you start to enjoy his playful character (and he does get very playful - check out his efforts at magic and ventriloquism in the later books!)

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