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‘A writer of exceptional imagination’: Mandy Little on Christopher Fowler

Christopher Fowler is the author of many funny and distinctive crime horror and thriller novels – not to mention two heart-warming autobiographies, as well as being a film marketing guru having created the well known cult-phrase for the Alien movie; ‘in space no one can hear you scream’.

Best loved for his Peculiar Crimes Unit detective series, his books feature octogenarian detectives Arthur Bryant and John May – think Sherlock and Watson with a soupçon of Gervase Fen and a dash of Miss Marple thrown in for good measure! These books are funny and distinctive, with plenty of mordant humour, fascinating trivia about London past and present and a cast of characters each individually wonderful and batty in their own special way. What more could you want?

At Dead Good we’re passionate about recommending brilliant books, and what better way to provide some insight than to ask those who work closely with the authors about their unique qualities! We asked Mandy Little, Christopher Fowler’s Literary Agent at Watson, Little Ltd about what makes his books so special.

Over to Mandy:

‘Fourteen years ago I took over Chris from another agent who was retiring. I’d heard of him, of course – who hadn’t? He was the famous author of Roofworld, in particular, and that made him mainly a horror writer and I’d never been good at horror so his previous agent was at pains to explain that, not only was he wide-ranging as a writer, he was beginning to focus mainly on crime and not just any old crime, quirky crime. This called for another bottle of wine because I’ve always been a natural crime fan and Boy do I like my crime quirky.

As I began to read the backlist two particularly sharply defined characters emerged with typically witty Fowler names, Bryant and May. But their appearances in the earlier novels were as nothing compared with what they would become as the series which bears their name began to evolve, starting with Full Dark House, probably the most complexly plotted of the eleven novels so far published.

But the increasingly streamlined plots and spare writing doesn’t mean that any of the hallmarks of the series, notably the love and knowledge of London, the mythology, the sense of the irreverent and the fun, are diminished.

I made the mistake of asking to see a first draft quite early on – I was usually shown draft two – and thought it was good but it was lacking that ‘Je ne sais quoi’. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was and was being diplomatically agent-like in talking to my client, when he simply said, ‘Well, I haven`t put in the best jokes yet’! So we went back to my reading the second draft in minute detail and commenting on it, then reading the third one; if all is well then the typescript goes to the publisher.

Bryant and May novels manage to place side by side the absolutely everyday with magic, witchcraft and the completely impossible, all seamlessly enmeshed by a craftsman. It’s the chaotic office with its crazy staff cat, Crippen, which root the reader so that he or she can believe in everything else so readily. That and the utterly adorable characters of Arthur Bryant and John May, not that they can’t be exasperating, particularly Bryant – but you just know that behind that ancient, shambolic, exterior is a brain like no other, which will solve even the most arcane of crimes. And May is his perfect partner, suave, sartorially adept, clever and – extraordinarily – he understands Bryant.

The interaction between Bryant and May is not only brilliant, it’s touching. And the way the other characters at the Peculiar Crimes Unit work together is based on Chris’ thorough knowledge of the way the Met. works and his shrewd understanding of people.

He is interested in everything and everyone, which makes his writing constantly fresh so each Bryant and May title is a totally different book, not just another crime novel in a series which bears their names. Some are darker than others but they are all full of light and shade, depth too. A writer of exceptional imagination, he really is that person who has three good ideas before breakfast.’

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