RogerBW's Blog

White Corridor, Christopher Fowler 02 April 2020

2007 police procedural mystery/horror, fifth in the Bryant and May series. With the team split up by chance and weather, they most solve two separate cases.

Unfortunately for the fan of conventional mysteries, neither is soluble by the usual detective-story means. In one, Fowler is actively deceiving the reader by his reporting of events; in the other, one key character's logic seems to break down (their knowledge of a particular thing, and their action at a later time, are both crucial to the plot, but the knowledge of the thing would seem to deny the possibility of the action).

So on the one side Bryant and May are stuck in a snowdrift on the edge of Dartmoor, and among the other stranded motorists is a murderer. Well, eventually. First this split of the narrative is itself split, with on the one side Bryant and May getting ready to drive to a conference of spiritualists and psychics, then getting marooned after taking an ill-adviced short-cut on Bryant's advice, something so out of character for May that Fowler feels the need to point it out and make it obvious. (But this is 2007. Why doesn't May, whom we're told repeatedly likes the latest gadgets and has a particularly flashy phone, also have a car navigation system he could have brought with him?)

The other half of this part of the story starts with a woman leaving her ex-husband and fleeing with her son to the South of France (off-season), then meeting a plausible rogue and fleeing from him back to England. But with no particular reason to be interested in them, I found this mostly tedious, with the son coming over as whiny while the woman doesn't seem to have any real character of her own. Once this narrative meets Bryant and May, it becomes an effectively unconventional locked-room mystery.

And the other half of the overall story is another locked-room mystery: the unit's long-standing coroner-pathologist, Oswald Finch, is found dead in his mortuary, and it looks as though only one of the other members of the unit could have done it.

As if that weren't enough narratives to be going on with, the administrative villain of the previous book returns, trying to get the unit shut down yet again, this time by scheduling a royal visit in the hope of producing embarrassment. (But why can't anyone simply say "no, we're having the place rewired and the senior staff are on leave, arrange it for next week rather than in two days' time"?)

I just wasn't convinced by any of it. At under 90,000 words this isn't long as novels go, but it's very flaccid. The psychogeography of London that made up the padding in the earlier books is gone here (in part because Bryant isn't in London most of the time) and what's left is laboured and lacking in involvement. What's worse, Fowler's vocabulary isn't as large as he thinks it is.

"You've made most of it up. You can't go around doing that."

"I may have ameliorated some parts for dramatic effect," Bryant admitted, "a bit of creative licence. It would have been a rather boring case history otherwise."

If this were my first book of the series, I wouldn't come back. As it is I'll follow my standard series rules: they're allowed one stinker, but with two in a row I drop it.

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Previous in series: Ten Second Staircase | Series: Bryant and May

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