One of the most perfect literary guides we know for London has to be Christopher Fowler.
London – its quirks, idiosyncrancies, history and essence all feature in his books with the dashing duo of Bryant and May. His latest? A series of short stories filling in some of the gaps of previous cases and exploring angles you may not have considered before.
These are the books, the Bryant and May ‘guides to London’ where history and setting is as much a character as the police characters themselves. Think you know the city? Well you’ve not met Christopher and discovered how he portrays the city in his tales of crime and intrigue…
Welcome to the London of Christopher Fowler…..
I was born in the centre of London and let loose in Piccadilly Circus at about age four, so it always fascinated me. As kids we used to sneak into the scenery docks of theatres and watch rehearsals, and generally treated London as our playground; it never felt weird or unsafe. Although I’ve since lived in other countries, it was obvious that I should settle on London as my main location for books. One of my favourite locations for a story was the Clerkenwell House of Detention, one of the most disturbing underground buildings I’ve ever entered, and it’s impossible to live nearby and not be aware of what lies below the streets. You can see the Fleet tributaries through drain covers, and follow the chain of wells from King’s Cross down through Farringdon to the river. It’s a perfect setting for a murder mystery.
But for me there were other connections. My parents met in The Griffin pub on Clerkenwell Road, having worked at the nearby engineering firm of Griffin & Tatlock together. My father bought his wedding ring from a friend in Hatton Garden, and my mother always took me to the circus in the basement of Gamages department store in Holborn at Christmas. My first fountain pen came from one of the local suppliers, as did my first typewriter. Today I still live just a short walk away in King’s Cross.
At the London Metropolitan Archive, I read the story of the party-loving Lady Hatton whose dance with the Devil became a London myth. This became the basis of ‘Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart’. The more I dig into any part of London, the more I end up including it in the finished book.
Dickens pointed out that in London even the snowflakes were covered in soot, ‘gone into mourning for the death of the sun’, and there’s something about the low level of light that mutes the shades of brick and concrete, and depresses those of us who suffer through the purgatorial month of February. The geography of London near the river matches its weather, being perverse, willful, confusing and unsettling. The roads are always atmospheric, so they make fertile ground for the creation of dark tales. Add to that mix the stories of murders and hangings associated with Smithfield, the animal bones washed down from the butcheries on the riverbanks, and half the job is done for me.
All this makes writing (and reading) my crime novels sound depressing, but I have a lot of fun mixing fact and fiction, sending my elderly detectives around the backstreets in search of murderers. Fans write from around the world asking about the different London areas I use. I can’t see myself ever running out of ideas, because London provides them. One day I’ll have to start my own guided tour!
Well, what a lovely idea to end on, a Bryant and May guided tour seen through the eyes of Mr Christopher Fowler. Now that would be a tour to remember!