RogerBW's Blog

Seventy-Seven Clocks, Christopher Fowler 21 August 2019

2005 police procedural mystery/horror, third in the Bryant and May series. In the winter of 1973, a man dressed in Edwardian garb defaces a Waterhouse painting in the National Gallery; a guest at the Savoy dies of venom from a marshland snake. The Peculiar Crimes Unit investigates.

I couldn't help feeling a certain degree of formula creeping into this entry for the series: once more the narrative is split between Bryant and May on one side, and on the other a young woman who is at risk of becoming a victim of whatever's going on. Once more Bryant goes off on an entirely irrelevant esoteric track, only to pull everything together at the last moment. It's a good thing I'm reading these books in something like a rotation with several other series, because if I'd read them close together I'd have been annoyed by the similarities.

There's also a very tedious, because drawn-out and repeated, motif of the horrible rich family that treats everyone as its servants, and indeed all rich people without any possible exception are horrible, and while it's dressed up as class war rather than money-envy it's so blatantly the latter than I found it tended to throw me out of my immersion in the story.

It's not hard to work out who the motivating villain must be, but there's a baroque conspiracy between them and the actual criminal acts. Perhaps it's a little far-fetched even for this series, and certainly it crumbles when subjected to serious scrutiny, but within the nightmarish setting of the book it just about holds together.

Similarly, Sam Gates (in the audio version, Jerry Gates in etext, no idea about the original publication), the young woman who gets let in on the investigation for no obvious reason, clearly has a Deep Dark Secret, and if you can't work out what it is you really aren't trying.

It's not a bad book, but again I enjoyed it for the quality of the language (even if Fowler doesn't know how to use "might" vs "may", and even if the audiobook narrator insisted on talking about the neCRONoMIcon) and for the surreal atmosphere much more than for the plotting.

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Previous in series: The Water Room | Series: Bryant and May | Next in series: Ten Second Staircase

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