The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

Water Room 1

my copy

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler, 2004 mystery, 2nd book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series featuring Bryant & May

I really like this series. The London setting is interesting, and the history fascinating, and the characters really shine.

Bryant and May is a series of crime fiction/mystery novels by English novelist Christopher Fowler. The series follows Arthur Bryant and John May, two detectives who are part of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a fictional unit in London. The series is set between World War II and present times and often includes flashbacks to earlier times when an incident from the detectives’ past is relevant. Fowler frequently includes London landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral into the series. The series is also known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Fowler began his Bryant and May Mysteries series in 2003 with Full Dark House. The series is currently ongoing. See the list below.

I bought the first book in the series, Full Dark House (2003), years ago and read it soon after, then let the next few sit on the shelf. Finally, during a clean-and-organize of my book area I got around to reading this one. Why did I wait so long?

Water Room 2From the publisher’s website:

How can an elderly recluse drown in a chair in her otherwise dry basement? That’s what John May and Arthur Bryant of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit set out to discover in a city rife with shady real estate developers, racist threats, dodgy academicians, and someone dangerously obsessed with Egyptian mythology. Linking them all is an evil lurking in London’s vast and forgotten underground river system—a killer with the eerie ability to strike anywhere, anytime, without leaving a clue. It’s a subterranean case of secrets, lies, and multiple murder that defies not only the law, but reason itself. Can Bryant and May bring a killer to the surface and stop the dark tide of murder before it pulls them under, too?

Fowler’s books are unlike anything else I’ve read in the mystery genre, and well worth the reading time. The amount of historical information stirred into the books, which are (mostly, usually) part of the investigation and solution are a lot of what I enjoy, as well as the humor sprinkled in. But most importantly, it’s Bryant and May solving the crime in their very own way. Wonderful stuff.

The author says on his blog: Water Room 3
“For each reader who discovers something they like inside the covers, there’s someone who can’t be persuaded to touch them; their preconceptions run too deep.

That’s fine. You can’t please everyone and some of the volumes in the series are pretty esoteric and densely plotted. I wanted to attempt every imaginable type of crime story except the most common one; the grim ultra-violent procedural. Both ‘Oranges & Lemons’ and the upcoming ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ are more like 1970s adventures than 1930s whodunnits.”

The Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May books in publication order (which is the same as their chronological order):

Full Dark House  (2003)
The Water Room (2004)
Seventy-Seven Clocks  (2005)
Ten Second Staircase  (2006)
White Corridor  (2007)
The Victoria Vanishes  (2008)
Bryant & May on the Loose  (2009)
Off the Rails  (2010)
The Memory of Blood  (2011)
The Invisible Code  (2012)
The Bleeding Heart  (2014)
The Secret Santa  (2015)
The Burning Man  (2015)
London’s Glory (ss) (2015)
Strange Tide  (2016)
Wild Chamber  (2017)
Hall of Mirrors  (2018)
England’s Finest  (2019)
The Lonely Hour ( 2019)
Oranges and Lemons (2020)
London Bridge is Falling Down (coming Dec. 2021)

Posted in Books & Reading | 8 Comments

Reading a Series

As I’m sure is true for most mystery readers, many of the books I read are part of a series. It often seems that’s about all we see when we look at book listings and reviews. But these series create a question, and a problem: how to read them.

Some series, such as those by William Kent Kruger and Louise Penny, I’ve read from the beginning, when the first book was published, and happily continued on as each new book came out. But many, many other series, old and newer, exist prior to my discovering them. Once I find an interesting new-to-me series, what do I do?  More to the point here, what do YOU do? 

It seems there are several options:

  • Read the first book in the series, which is usually the first one published.
  • Read whichever book in the series that initially got my attention.
  • Read the first book with the intention to keep reading the series occasionally.
  • Read the first book with the intention to read the series, book after book, straight through.

Most of the time I find myself trying to read a series in order, and read one and then, after reading something else, come back to the series and read the next one. It takes a long time to get through a series that way, and if the writer is active, they can sometimes outpace my reading of their books. Here are two series I’m currently reading, one now and then, as examples:

The Rivers of London series, which now includes a short story collection, Tales From The Folly.

rivers-of-london-series-1-7

the Rivers of London series

I’ve read the first two books, and intend to keep reading, but there are so many other books in the Read Right Away stack…

Chron St Mary spines

the Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Headline edition

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s is a wonderful series of novels, (the recent edition published by Headline is shown) and now a short story collection, The Long and the Short of It , (Night Shade Books). I read, again, the first two before being tempted away by something else. I’m planning on continuing on with these soon.

 I’m reading the short story collection now and enjoying it immensely.

One more, this time no image, is Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series, Again, the short story collection London’s Glory got me headed back to reading the series.

So, how do you manage your series reading? Are you a read-em-straight-through person, or now-and-then, or what?

Posted in Books & Reading | 18 Comments

FFB: Five Against Venus by Philip Latham

Five Against Venus  by Philip Lathen (pseudonym of Robert S. Richardson), Winston Science Fiction 1952, third in series. Cover by Virgil Finlay.

This one is for the 10-year-old in you.

As a kid I was able to find some of the Winston Science Fiction books at the city library. I loved them. They’re now available in ebook format, and I’ve purchased several to read on my iPad tablet. This is the third in the series.

5 Against Venus cvrFive Against Venus, written by Philip Latham, is a science-fiction novel first published in the United States in 1952 by the John C. Winston Company. Philip Latham was the nom de plume of Robert S. Richardson, a professional astronomer who also provided technical assistance on movies such as Destination Moon.

This is one of the thirty-five juvenile novels that comprise the Winston Science Fiction set, which novels were published in the 1950s for a readership of teenage boys. The typical protagonist in these books was a boy in his late teens who was proficient in the art of electronics, a hobby that was easily available to the readers. In this novel, Bruce Robinson differs from that pattern in having no special skill, only a knowledge of astronomy.

Plot Summary (from Wikipedia):

“After another boring day at Los Angeles High School, Bruce Robinson is delighted to hear that his long-unemployed father, Paul Robinson, has found a job – on the moon. A short time later the Robinson family boards the rocketship that will take them to meet the deep-space ship Sirius, which will take them to the moon. But as they approach the disc-shaped deep-space ship they see that, instead of Sirius, they will be riding the Aurora to the moon.

Once the Robinsons have boarded the Aurora and settled in, Bruce meets Jim Gregor, who shows him the ship’s controls. Bruce and Gregor then join the engineer and the captain (neither man is named in the story) in the cargo hold to move some boxes. When one of the boxes breaks open and reveals a strange-looking machine, the captain warns Bruce never to tell anyone what he saw.

With the ship under way, Bruce develops a hunch that something has gone wrong. He sees that an emergency light has come on and informs Gregor. The pilot discovers that the ship’s engines have been over-running and that the ship is on a course that will pass close to Venus (in the 1950 movie Rocketship X-M the over-running of the engines takes the lunar-bound ship to Mars). With insufficient propellant to return to Earth, Gregor attempts to make an emergency landing on a mountainside and dies in the crash. Prior to the crash, the captain and the engineer bail out in a rocket-propelled lifeboat.

Little more than shaken up in the crash, Bruce and his father recover supplies from the wrecked spaceship. The supplies include, to their astonishment, a pair of carbines and boxes of ammunition. Finding a cave next to a waterfall near the wreck, they move in and set up camp.

On several occasions Bruce hears a soft rustling and on others he hears a ringing in his ears and feels heat on his face. The other members of the family have similar experiences and they dismiss them as part of getting acclimatized to an alien environment. With their supply of canned food running low, Paul and Bruce go hunting, assuming that Venusian animal life would be edible. They follow the stream coming out of their waterfall and soon find what appears to be an artificial enclosure woven from vines using trees as supports. Inside the improvised corral they encounter a creature similar to Diplodocus, but with a tame demeanor. They drive the docile creature toward their cave, intending to butcher it when they arrive, but change their decision and keep it as a pet after it saves Frank from a carnivorous plant.”

The story continues, but you get the idea. There are man-sized vampire bats… Originally aimed at the Fifties young reading audience, these are quick fun reading. This is one of the weaker books in the series, but I still enjoyed it. 

Posted in Books & Reading | 9 Comments

Shelf Shot 16 – The Complete Dr. Thorndyke

Here are all nine volumes, on my shelf.

The Complete Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman, 9 volumes, MX Publishing, UK, softcover. Also available in hardcover.

Summary of first three volumes from MX website:

“Volume I contains the first three Thorndyke novels, published in 1907, 1911, and 1912, respectively. Set in London during the time that Sherlock Holmes was still in practice, these introduce us to Thorndyke and his world, as well as painting a vivid picture of the London of that era.

The Red Thumb Mark – In which Dr. Jervis encounters his old friend, Dr. Thorndyke. Soon after, they’re drawn into a mystery where a man is accused of murder, and his own bloody thumbprint, evidence that cannot be denied, places him absolutely at the scene of the crime. As Thorndyke investigates, it becomes apparent that he is too much of a threat and must be removed.

The Eye of Osiris – Wherein a man vanishes and is presumed dead. But from where and when exactly did he disappear? That is the initial question, but by the end it’s much more complex, with one of the most unique solutions in mystery history!

The Mystery of 31 New Inn – Dr. Jervis is summoned at night by closed carriage to treat a gravely ill patient – but is he simply sick or being murdered? His suspicions continue to grow, and Thorndyke provides a unique solution. But that’s only half, as the two also become involved in an unusual death related to a young man’s inheritance.

Volume II contains roughly the first half of the Thorndyke Short Stories. In all, there are over forty Thorndyke short stories, spread over six books. This volume contains the fifteen short stories from the first three, John Thorndyke’s CasesThe Singing Bone, and The Great Portrait Mystery.

Some of the stories in this book are especially famous, as they were the first use of the “inverted” mystery, in which the criminal (and how he did it) are identified from the first, and the second half of the narrative shows how Thorndyke solves it, in spite of the criminal’s every effort. (The “inverted” crime story was later used to great success by Columbo, as well as other detectives.)

In addition to these fifteen stories, this book also contains a couple of Apocrypal Thorndyke tales:

  • The original novella of “31, New Inn” from 1905, which became The Mystery of 31 New Inn, the third Thorndyke novel from 1912. This is the doctor’s true first appearance – written and published several years before the appearance of The Red Thumb Mark (1907), which is commonly believed to be Thorndyke’s first published adventure; and
  • “The Dead Hand” (1912), which later became the revised and expanded Thorndyke novel The Shadow of the Wolf (1925).

Volume III contains the remaining half of the Thorndyke Short Stories. These, along with the contents of 2018’s Volume II (with the first half of the short stories and a few rare Apocryphal items), presents the complete short Thorndyke mysteries for a new generation.

In all, there are over forty Thorndyke short stories, spread over six books. This volume contains all twenty-five stories from the final three collections, Dr. Thorndyke’s CasebookThe Puzzle Lock, and The Magic Casket.

Some of the stories in this book are especially famous, as Freeman was the first to use the “inverted” mystery, in which the criminal (and how he did it) are identified during the first half of the story, and the second half of the narrative shows how Thorndyke solves it, in spite of the criminal’s every effort. (The “inverted” crime story was later used to great success by Columbo, as well as other detectives.)”

The full collection is here – Thorndyke Collection


I had read some Thorndyke stories in anthologies, and enjoyed them enough to start buying these as they were published. I’ve read the first novel and the second volume, which contains short stories. For my earlier thoughts on Thorndyke, enter “Thorndyke” in the search field the upper right of the page.

You should be able to click on the image and read the contents on the spines. These are very nice books and it’s great to have the complete set, especially since earlier editions have gotten pricey. If you haven’t read any Dr. Thorndyke stories, you’re in for a treat when you do.

These books are Highly Recommended!

Posted in Books & Reading | 12 Comments

Shelf Shot 15 – Pogo

This time it’s the shelf on which my collection of Walt Kelly’s Pogo books resides.

When I was growing up, our family would visit my Aunt and Uncle every other Christmas, and I first saw Pogo books at their home. Soon after, I bought one, then another, of my own. So I’ve had Pogo books for a long time, some of the earlier paperbacks on the far right date to the late 1950s/early 1960s. I read every one of them many, many times.

Later, I came across the set with the blue covers and bought it, in spite of duplication. The problem with those books is that they’re on the small side.

More recently, I started buying Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, the large volumes on the left. There are currently seven volumes, as you see.

Are you a fan of Pogo? Do you have any of these books?

Posted in Books & Reading | 14 Comments

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, adapted and illustrated by Gary Gianni, introduction by Ray Bradbury, Flesk Publications 2009 hardcover graphic novel.

Verne  wrote a great many wonderful books, and this is one of my favorites. This may also have been an early introduction to science fiction for me, but it was the Disney film that I saw, rather than reading the book.

I decided to read the book, and then came across this beautifully drawn graphic novel. Though by necessity the graphic version is shortened, it is close in plot and outcome. If you’ve only seen the film, I recommend the book, in print form or this beautiful graphic novel, the book and movie are quite different.

From the Flesk website: Gianni’s adaptation preserves the sense of wondrous adventure, while sacrificing nothing by way of plot or the finer nuances of character. This finely distilled narrative combines skillfully rendered depictions of the men and the machines they command. Their encounters with astounding marvels and terrible monsters, above and below the waves, create a rich and rewarding reading experience unlike any other.This oversized, hardbound volume will also include the full text of The Sea Raiders, a short story by H.G. Wells, accompanied by ten original illustrations created for this edition by Gianni. Jim & Ruth Keegan supply the colors.

Posted in Books & Reading | 16 Comments

FFB: Death of A Busybody by George Bellairs

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs, © 1943, introduction by Martin Edwards, British Library Crime Classics 2017 trade paper, mystery.

The titular nosy parker in Death of a Busybody is Miss Ethel Tither. She has made herself deeply unpopular in the English village of Hilary Magna, since she goes out of her way to snoop on people, and interfere with their lives.

A seasoned reader of detective stories will immediatley spot a potential murder victim. Sure enough, by the end of chapter one, this unpleasant lady has met an extremely unpleasant fate: she is found floating in a cesspool, having been bludgeoned prior to drowning.

The local police call in the Yard, bringing Inspector Thomas Littlejohn, George Bellairs’ series detective, to the village. In his search for suspects, he finds that he is spoiled for choice. The amiable vicar supplies him with a map showing the scene of the crime; maps were a popular feature of traditional whodunnits for many years, and Bellairs occasionally included them in his books, as he does here. – partly from a Goodreads review

This is a mystery novel strongly based on character and setting, which is just the way I like them, and I enjoyed this one quite a lot.

Posted in Books & Reading | 9 Comments

Short Story Wednesday – “Oomphel in the Sky” by H. Beam Piper

Ministry of Disturbance and Other Science Fiction by H. Beam Piper, Adventure Paperback – April 1, 2007

“Oomphel in the Sky” by H. Beam Piper, originally published in Analog Science Fact and Fiction, November 1960, Aegypan 2007 trade paperback, 200 pages.

This is part of H. Beam Piper’s Future History series that he worked on throughout his SF writing years. This is the second story I’ve covered from this collection.

In this story, the natives of Kwannon practiced ritual magic under the watchful eyes of their Terran rulers. Hunting, farming, raising children–it all required the special spells only a powerful shoonoo could cast. But when prophesies of the end of the world send the natives of Kwannon swarming, it may also be the end for the Terrans. The natives, it seems, actually want the end of the world–for the promised afterlife will be far, far better. And who can argue with the shoonoon and their prophetic dreams? It’s up to Miles Gilbert, reporter for the Kwannon Planetwide News Service, to save the day. For only he can turn the natives from the course with the special magic of Earth, the machine-giving Oomphel (technology).

Though the story is, typically of Piper, more talk than action, I enjoyed it and am continuing to read this collection.

 

Posted in Books & Reading | 11 Comments

Reading E. B. White

E. B. White has long been a favorite writer of mine, since reading things by him written for The New Yorker long ago. Reading Is Sex Necessary?, James Thurber’s humorous book co-written with White, led me to reading more of White, and it wasn’t long before I bought these hardcovers sometimes around 1976 or 1977.

They have been on the shelf since, and I’ve read each of them more than once.

Last Fall I picked up a copy of E. B. On Dogs, a trade paperback with letters and essays about his various dogs, mostly Dachshunds, for some light reading when the pandemic was really getting me down (it still is, by the way). Much of the material from the book I’d already read in one of the four hardcovers shown above. I never seem to tire of White’s humor, opinions and worldview.

Are you an E. B. reader?

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books, Short Stories | 12 Comments

Ice Storm Snarl

It snowed Thursday and freezing rain Friday and lost power about midnight. Power company says we should have power sometime Monday. Meanwhile, we have a gas fireplace for some heat and the stovetop to cook. We’re iced in so home we stay. ITS COLD

Posted in Books & Reading | 15 Comments