Every so often a book comes along which is a joy to read and this set of essays by Christopher Fowler is one such offering. Of course, the term ‘forgotten’ is subjective. A writer who is unheard of by one reader is possibly a favourite of another. Fowler begins by asking the question: why are good authors forgotten? He makes a convincing case for possible scenarios. Authors, such as Richard Condon, who become famous for one title who then fade in obscurity or others such as John Creasey, whose output is so prolific that perhaps quantity is at the expense of quality. There are some lovely anecdotes here as Fowler describes trying to track down what became of the writers he discusses.
Of course, there are some authors in the book who I still read. Arthur Upfield, Dennis Wheatley, although his books have dated, and Barbara Pym who is one of my favourite writers. Others such as Baroness Orczy I have tried and given up on. It was fascinating, though, to rediscover authors I did read as a teenager and who are most definitely out of fashion. Eleanor Hibbert, for example who wrote as Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy (and other pseudonyms) was a favourite of mine as was Virginia Andrew whose Flowers in the Attic had an appeal which is hard to decipher.
A mark of a good book is when I get my pencil out and make notes in the margin. I’ve now a list of authors who I fancy reading including Winifred Watson and Caryl Brahms whose books I can see I already have on my shelves. The Book of Forgotten Authors would make a wonderful Christmas present for any bibliophile you know and is definitely one of my favourite books of the year.
I was first introduced to the Bryant and May series by Chris Simmons from crimesquad.com. I’d recently moved to London from Liverpool where I used to live near the old Bryant and May match factory on the Speke Road. The first book in the series, Full Dark House, had just been published and I wanted to see the characters he had created using the iconic name pairing. In Fowler’s books, Arthur Bryant and John May head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a division of the Met police founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest. It’s a great premise for a series and the books have been of a consistently high quality.
In Wild Chamber, the death of a child has unforeseen consequences. A woman is found murdered in a locked private garden in London and her husband and nanny are missing as is the dog she was walking. A killer is on the loose and planning his next victim but Bryan and May become embroiled in a national scandal which hampers their investigations.
What I increasingly like in the crime novels I read, is a story beyond the mystery that is presented. Fowler’s books give insights into London’s history (here the private gardens or ‘wild chambers’), splashes of humour, intelligent prose and an otherworldly setting. This otherness usually comes from Arthur Bryant and his out of body experiences. If anything, the slight supernatural element was toned down in Wild Chamber but balanced by the wonderful insights into London’s private gardens that I used to look at enviously through railings when I lived there.
This is the fourteenth book in series and, as ever, a joy to read. Its intelligent crime fiction that’s accessible to everyone.