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on 18 April 2014
I loved this.
Maybe it's just a childhood diet of Secret Sevens and then Miss Marples -- but this just brings you back.
The two main characters are a mixture of woollen jacket, cord elbow patches, mothballs and damp newspapers -- London feels like the third man and the plot, although not clue driven keeps you interested, but to be honest, I'd have read this just for the over all nostalgic feel of it. I love that many of the light bulb moments are driven by the quirky outlook and understanding of either Bryant or May. I'll be back to Fowler's unusual crimes team for more.
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on 8 April 2017
This is the introduction to 2 great detectives with different personalities. Somehow, they manage to work together to solve very "Peculiar Crimes".
Read one and you're hooked!
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on 21 November 2012
The first novel in the Bryant and May series starts with an interesting twist - the death of the one of the principal characters. This event sets the remaining half of the duo off on a trip down memory lane, as he uses his recollections of the pair's first case together to investigate a modern mystery.

It took me a little while to get into the book - the first of Fowler's novels that I've read - but this may have been because I was distracted from reading it as quickly as I usually would. The plot is well told, revealing just enough throughout, and the author's ability to write two separate timelines consecutively, and keep it clear to the reader which they are in without it feeling forced shows this off perfectly.

I'll admit that there were parts of the structure that felt odd, but this might be because I've not read the author's earlier books which establish the characters in supporting roles. There didn't really seem to be a need for the split timeline framing story - the part set in 1940 could have easily stood by itself, and the 2003 storyline felt a little like padding.

Overall though I was pleased to finally read this having been recommended it a while ago by a friend. I was expecting something a little more wild from the 'peculiar crimes unit', but wasn't disappointed by what I found instead. Book two has gone on my wishlist.
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on 17 January 2015
Having been an avid follower of Christopher Fowler’s works for a number of years, I was excited when he announced he would be writing an entire book featuring his only recurring characters, Detectives Bryant and May of the Metropolitan Police’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. They had appeared in his earlier novel “Darkest Day”, but that was twelve years ago and, despite fleeting glimpses of them in “Soho Black” and “Rune” in 1998, little has been heard of them since then.

Now in their 80s and close to calling the end on their careers, the partnership is bought to a premature end by an explosion at the Bow Street office. Only John May knows that Arthur Bryant was inside. Devastated by the ending of a partnership that had lasted longer than his marriage, May, with the help of their other long time colleague, Janice Longbright, sets about finding who would want to kill his partner.

He discovers that Bryant has been looking back at their very first case together, a series of murders in and around the Palace Theatre during the Blitz. Following his partner’s lead, May suspects that Bryant’s death was related to this investigation and starts delving into their own past.

The story alternates between the two time frames, 1940 and 2003, with the progress of both investigations being followed. This can get a little confusing at times, as there doesn’t seem to be a huge distinction between the two time periods. The Blitz, rationing and other wartime events fill the 1940 section and the differences between London then and London now are fairly distinct. However, in most other aspects, this is not as true. The language is the most noticeable aspect, as there’s very little to suggest a time lapse of more than 6 decades, in either the way the characters speak or the language used to describe events.

The detectives themselves seem untouched by time, too. In the 1940s, Bryant seems older than his years yet in 2003, May seems younger than he should be. The 60-year gap between the two periods seems to have affected the city more than it has the detectives. Whilst this does help the story flow a little better and means the different time frames doesn’t affect the story too much, it does jar a little as you’re aware that most 80 year olds wouldn’t be doing the kind of thing that May does.

Not that what May does is really all that impressive. Despite the danger inherent in the time period and a slightly dark nature of the setting and the story, it barely raises above a standard murder mystery. Bryant’s deductive side makes him feel a little like an updated Sherlock Holmes, taking the investigation off at apparent tangents, most of which he keeps to himself, with May as his Dr Watson, doing most of the legwork.

There’s also little of one of Fowler’s other trademark, his love of London’s history. Although the recollections of how London and Londoners may have reacted during the Blitz may be accurate, there’s nothing about London’s history outside this period, which has long been something of a speciality and an interest of Fowler’s.

The mystery itself isn’t terribly gripping, which comes as a surprise with Fowler. He’s become a master of urban horror, writing situations that are realistic enough to believe they could happen to you, but dark enough that you know you’d rather they didn’t. There’s little of that here, as the very setting is quite fantastical and, despite some gothic touches, not as dark as his earlier work.

It’s also slower paced than much of his earlier novels, particularly the likes of “Spanky” and “Disturbia”. Although things do tend to move along fairly well, they don’t flow particularly well and the pace doesn’t really get moving at any real pace. This only adds to the mundane nature of the investigation. It’s not exactly predictable, but it’s not really anything special, and you’re unlikely to be hugely surprised or moved when the finale is reached, as there’s not been enough previously to grab your interest or make you care about what happens.

Given that the last Fowler I read, “Breathe”, disappointed me due to the lack of pages but entranced me with the story, this is more of a disappointment. It’s a decent sized book for the money, but isn’t nearly as enjoyable to read. It seems that Fowler can be inspired by all the nasty things that can happen in London, but that tidying up afterwards isn’t something of great interest to him.

Fowler is a great writer and deserves more fans that he seems to have. However, its novels like “Spanky” and “Soho Black” that have gained him the good reputation he has. “Full Dark House”, whilst not a bad novel, isn’t going to enhance his name or increase his fan base. It’s great to see Bryant and May getting a showing as lead characters, but the result has been fairly boring by Fowler’s standards. It’s really only one for Fowler fans and isn’t going to appeal to anyone else, being lacklustre even by Fowler’s standards and lacking any real appeal as a crime thriller for those who are new to his work. For anyone who has never read his books, I’d thoroughly recommend Fowler, but not this one.

This review may also appear under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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on 16 November 2007
Detective stories aren't really my thing but this one certainly caught my imagination. Basically, it's Phantom of the Opera in wartime London investigated by a pair of novice detectives. The spirit of the Blitz is evoked very well, with great detail and a real sense of being there. The plot is intriguing and the characters are both interesting and appealing - I could imagine the two 'tecs being played by a young Alec Guiness and John Mills. If you're looking for a mystery with a difference, and a lot of charm, then you'll certainly enjoy Full Dark House.
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VINE VOICEon 23 January 2005
This is a very enjoyable book; Bryant and May are offbeat, eccentric but ultimately believable characters. The book is set both in present day London and the London that was being devastated by World War Two.
The author paints a vivid picture of turbulent times and has obviously done a great deal of research to make sure that period details are correct, particularly the descriptions of the backstage areas of theatres and the varied staff and procedures for putting on a show.
The premise that the Met should have a department specially set up to investigate peculiar crimes is sheer brilliance and will hopefully lead to a further outing for Bryant and May.
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VINE VOICEon 20 February 2011
This is the story of Arthur Bryant and John May a rather peculiar combination of detectives who work in the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Its inception in the dark days of the Second World War and right through some 60 years later, we are taken to their first case featuring some rather unexplained deaths in a theatre and a bomb explosion that has killed Arthur Bryant.

What Christopher Fowler does is take us on two intertwining stories, the story of the present is important to the story of the past. The unique characters of Bryant and May make for amusing reading. Their methods are both unique and unnatural as well as regular and by the book. But which will give the right result?

Fowler takes us into the depths of the Blitz, the blackout, the noise, the damage, to the point where you felt you were really there and could hear the sirens, smell the smoke and fear the outcome. The descriptions he uses for London in the war are just as relevant and as London in the present day. The comparisons are there and this sets the background for the two intertwining stories.

Everything is very dark in the Palace Theatre including the murders and it is all wrapped up in a Greek tragedy. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is tasked to investigate for fear of upsetting public morale during the Blitz. The play itself is more likely to upset public morality with is overt sexuality and nudity. But the show must go on, despite everything including Bryant and May trying to control the comings and goings of the theatre. Is it something tangible that is haunting the theatre or is it the supernatural?

Move forward 60 years and May is left to pick up the pieces when the Peculiar Crimes Unit is destroyed in an explosion and Bryant is declared dead, having been working diligently in the office as he had always done. May knows Bryant was onto something having found slight evidence that he was going back to their first case together, the murders at the Palace Theatre. Someone is haunting May and seems to be stalking him, but is it relevant to the explosion or the murders previous.

The story does take a lot to get going, and there was a point where I did feel like putting the book down as the story jumped about all over the place. However to any potential reader I would say, stick with it, because the dark humour, the murderous intent of the unknown all come to fruition in what becomes a fast paced story. Though the Greek god elements were a bit lost on me, my knowledge there is rather rusty or nonexistent!

A good first book introducing us to two characters that feature in subsequent books. If you want something quirky with your crime and perhaps feel Agatha Christie is not quite quirky enough but enjoys the golden age of crime then this could be the series of books for you.
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on 12 September 2003
if you are a regular christopher fowler reader you would have come across the 'decrepit detectives' Arthur Bryant and John May and their adventures in the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit.This novel takes us back to the beginning of their investigations which started in 1940 as two young policemen seconded to the newly opened unit.The story flashes back between 1940 and the present day and is the usual mix of the weird and wonderful that graces a Fowler book.
The story concerns the mysterious murders that happen during the rehersals and opening for a show of Orpheus at the Palace Theatre (the one where Les Mis plays).the characters are well drawn and fufill their roles well and the good thing is that you find out how some of the other characters that inhabit the Bryant and May universe came to be.This book is part mystery,part horror and part hisory guide with the descriptive writing that Fowler uses to give us the flavours of London 1940.The goods thing is that after a couple of appearances before this looks like the first in a continuing series of B&M novels which in my opinion would make a great tv series(any commissioning editors out there take note Fowlers works would make GREAT tv !!)
A well written book that is definitely worth reading and hopefully this being the first of many.
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on 14 August 2003
If you were to take one Agatha Christie crime novel, a couple of episodes of the X-Files and the two crabbit auld geezers from "The Fast Show" and whizz them in a blender, the result would be very similar to this book.
The "misfit" section of the Metropolitan Police is called the PCU (Peculiar Crimes Unit), and its creation during the Second World War led to the working partnership of Arthur Bryant and John May. Their very first case (theatrical serial killer) comes back to haunt the unit with a vengeance, when Arthur is believed murdered in a bomb blast 50 years later. The plot twists and turns very satisfactorily throughout the book and the switches between present day and the past are well handled.
The background of London during the Blitz is very convincingly written, and is fascinating and challenging to a younger generation who may have only read the historically sanitized versions.
This is a good old-fashioned crime novel, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who may have bemoaned the fact that all the best crime novelists are dead (Christie, Sayers, etc). Christopher Fowler promises that we will hear more from his detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May (who have appeared already in "Rune") and I'll certainly be looking forward to that.
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on 16 April 2006
Told in flashbacks to London in the blitz this is the first of the adventures of the hilariously named "Bryant and May"'s detective stories. Heading up the peculiar crimes unit, they investigate mysterious and gruesome deaths in theatreland.

A great read - conjuring up the feel of wartime london very nicely, and giving a superb introductions to two characters who should make for an enjoyable series of novels.
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