Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Water Room Review

The Water Room (Bryant and May)
-          Christopher Fowler
Publisher: Bantam
They are detection’s oddest couple: two cranky detectives whose professional partnership dates back half a century. Now Arthur Bryant and John May return in a case of multiple murder that twists through a subterranean course of the secrets, lies, and extreme passions that drive even ordinary men and women to the most shocking crimes….
They are living legends with a reputation for solving even the trickiest cases using unorthodox, unconventional, and often completely unauthorized methods. But the Peculiar Crimes Unit headed by Detectives John May and Arthur Bryant is one mistake away from being shut down for good. And when the elderly sister of Bryant’s friend is found dead in the basement of her decrepit house in Kentish Town, they find themselves on the verge of making exactly that mistake.
According to the coroner, Ruth Singh’s heart simply stopped beating. But why was a woman who rarely left the house fully dressed for an outing? And why was there river water in her throat? Convinced that the old lady didn’t die a natural death, the detectives delve into a murky case with no apparent motive, no forensics, and no clues. And they’ve barely launched their investigation when death claims another victim. Suddenly they discover some very unnatural behavior surrounding Ruth Singh’s death by “natural” causes—from shady real estate developers and racist threats to two troubled marriages, from a dodgy academician working London’s notorious “grey economy” to a network of antiquities collectors obsessed with Egyptian mythology. And running beneath it all are the sweeping tentacles of London’s vast and forgotten underground river system. As the rains pour down and the water rises, Bryant and May must rely on instinct, experience, and their own very peculiar methods to stem a tide of evil that threatens to drown them all.
Set in modern day London, The Water Room follows detectives, eccentric Bryant and dapper May and the Peculiar Crime Unit as they investigate an elderly woman who apparently died through drowning despite the room and her clothes remaining dry.
The writing creates a beautiful atmosphere as we follow Bryant and May who are in their seventies as they get to know the residents of Balaklava Street. Bryant as independent and forthright as ever is convinced something strange is happening on the street, but May just wants them to concentrate on the newly re-opened Peculiar Crimes Unit and their official case load. The writing re-creates a small corner of North London which you can picture perfectly from the cobble stones to the neighbours. The characterisation is strong and every person even with little page time feels like a three dimensional character – I especially liked the banter between the members of the PCU – both old and new.
What lets down this wonderfully written ambience and characters that could easily populate any number of TV show series for many years, is the plot itself. While the initial mystery is intriguing, there is too little to move it forward. There is little evidence of actual wrong-doing and very little happens for weeks at a time – apart from some decorating. This meant my attention would wander and there felt like there was very little impetus to solve the case. Still the characters and the atmosphere kept me reading and by the end the action increased with an exciting chase through the underground London waterways.
Recommended for fans of Reginald Hill and Elizabeth George. 7 out of 10


  1. I still would like to read it - thanks for your review!

  2. I really can't focus, my eye keeps going to that book you are reading at the moment. it looks good

  3. There is a case sorta like that going on in the states. Too many unanswered questions and a drowning that doesn't make sense. Hm... I think that this is a book I would still have to be in the mood for, but I think I'll keep it in mind. Thanks Mel. :)