This is the first of two posts on the most excellent The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler. The second is going to be an totally brilliant interview (I am really, really modest because as we all know, it’s the questions that are the best thing about interviews, not the answers) while this post is going to be a review. The Burning Man is the 12th book in the Byrant & May series of crime novels by Christopher Fowler. As some of you know, crime is probably my favourite genre so ‘having’ to review this book was my kind of heaven.
London is burning with the passion and revolution and fire as people take to the streets to protest against the corruption in the city. It is all fairly controlled and contained until a burnt body is discovered. Bryant & May are on the case – who was the victim and why was he killed? As the fires rage in the city and the death toll starts to rise, Bryant faces his own personal demons as he and May also try to save the day.
As I said this is the 12th book in the series and while I can only imagine how much better it is to have read the whole series beforehand, I hadn’t and thankfully The Burning Man works as a standalone novel (all down to Christopher Fowler himself and his thoroughly brilliant memo right at the beginning of the book). Usually I am a commuter reader, meaning I read on my journey into the city and my journey out. However since this book was so good I also read at lunch and it was while I was tucked away in a little alcove that a very senior colleague of mine decided to approach me because she too is a fan. Had I ever spoken to her before? Nope, but there we were talking animatedly about how much we love Bryant & May. A few days after the head of my department decided to have a chat with me. What was it about? Bryant & May. Never has a book I have brought into work got so many people talking. All of us had read The Burning Man and all of us had loved it.
I have only ever read one other author who talks about London in the same way as Christopher Fowler. The Burning Man was a love letter to the city (at least that’s how I read it) – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was the London I recognised and the London I love. In The Burning Man there was diversity and an actual ethnic mix of characters and stories. How often do I ever find that in a book? So rarely I can count it on one hand. It was wonderful to read about a place I recognised, not this fictional London that so many authors decide to write about where there isn’t a single Indian doctor around (a certain politician’s wet dream, I’m sure).
Anyhoo back to The Burning Man. One of the first things I loved about this book was the cover. The artist’s interpretation of Bryant & May was an excellent introduction to the characters themselves. Old school detectives and friends in a rapidly evolving city, the story is as much about their relationship as it is about the crime itself. I loved this balance, and I loved walking into an already established world with well-developed characters and not feeling adrift. Bryant’s mind is starting to fail him and while this is horrific for any character, his mind is his sanctuary so reading about his struggles and coping mechanisms was especially poignant. He knew he had the answers to the murders in his mind but he couldn’t always remember them.
I like to think that as a crime fan I can guess the murderer well before the author reveals who they are. In actual fact I never get it right and with The Burning Man I was so far from the truth that I wasn’t even in the same county. I was blown away when everything was revealed – it was brilliant.
I am going to go back and read all the previous books in this series, just as I will read the next one because Bryant & May will be back. I can’t recommend it enough – this isn’t a book that crime fans will thoroughly enjoy, it’s a book people who like to read will enjoy.