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What Time Is It?
on 23 January 2015
One of the bonuses of submitting reviews to a site like this is that if it's not very good or if you think of a way it can be improved later, you can simply edit it and have another go. But the same can't be true for a published author and their works. Once they're out there, there isn't a great deal you can do about it.
Well, actually, that's not entirely true. Stephen King released two versions of "The Stand", after his publishers demanded more was cut out of the original edition than he wanted to keep the price down and this was put back in for the second release. Dean Koontz has done the same, rewriting his 1973 novel "Demon Seed" for republication in 1997. Now Christopher Fowler has released "Seventy-Seven Clocks", which is not in fact a new novel, but a rewritten version of one of his earlier works, "Darkest Day", a novel the author himself claimed not to be entirely satisfied with.
The Whitstables are an old London family, fallen on hard times. Once an aristocratic family with links to one of the London guilds, in modern times their business interests aren't performing as well as they used to and one of their number has recently defaced a valuable painting. But there is worse to come as both he, his brother and his sister are murdered in strange fashions, along with their family lawyer.
Elderly detectives Bryant and May, of the Metropolitan Police Peculiar Crimes Unit are baffled. It is clear that someone has taken a strong dislike to the Whitstable family, but they can't work out who or why. There are no obvious links, other than those between the victims and the killers are rarely even glimpsed, much less caught. The family themselves may know something about the vendetta, but they are either too scared or think themselves too important to assist the Police.
What we get here is a pretty decent idea, although perhaps not wildly original as a whole. The beauty of this is in the detail, with the individual murders being quite nicely done and frequently unusual in scope, which is partly what confuses Bryant and May. The solution when it comes is not something I've seen elsewhere, either. Fowler also manages to keep Bryant's obsession with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and the history of London at the centre of the plot, all of which combine to make quite a fascinating story.
Unfortunately, all these separate strands and interests can make things a little messy. Things do eventually all come together into a quite satisfactory conclusion, but it takes a little longer than it perhaps needs to getting there, even in this version which is shorter than the original. It does make for quite a slow paced read, which comes as a disappointment to fans of Fowler who will be used to things shifting a little quicker and also to fans of many modern day crime thrillers where the pace seems to be quicker.
I've never felt that Fowler's Bryant and May are his best, although he has worked a little better to his strengths this time, setting it in 1973 rather than the modern world, which means it feels a little less fantastical as it doesn't really have too much you can compare to the modern day world. However, his way of setting it in the past is a little clumsy and does make the book feel more like a sequel, although the story itself can stand alone, even for those not already familiar with Fowler's work.
Despite the good moments, this is quite a disappointing novel, as was the original version. If you're a fan of Police thrillers, there are better ones out there, with Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham being my particular favourites, although they do concentrate a little more on the mundane than Fowler does.
If you're already a Fowler fan and have read "Darkest Day", there is little point in picking up a copy of "Seventy-Seven Clocks", as it is virtually a carbon copy of the original. The real changes are merely cosmetic, with very little of the story unchanged, just with different people doing different things.
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