Book Review: The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

Posted April 25, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
Published by Bantam on March 28, 2006
Pages: 467
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Full Dark House, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant and May Off the Rails, London’s Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant and May, The Memory of Blood, The Invisible Code, Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Bryant and May and the Burning Man

Second in the Bryant & May mystery series that starts now and goes back into memory. It’s based in London and revolves around a mismatched pair of detectives whose skills balance out the other’s weaknesses. This story takes place after their office blew up.

My Take

An unexpected start to the story with Arthur leading a most disaffected tour group AND moving out of his landlady’s house! I certainly don’t blame Alma for being ticked. He doesn’t understand why anyone would be upset. Of course, he doesn’t understand why he’s really is hell on tech, either. John says he’s been blacklisted and can’t get email at home anymore because of Bryant’s antics.

“One of the great pleasures that used to come with senior citizenship was the right to be perfectly vile to everyone. You could say whatever you liked, and people excused you out of respect for your advanced years. But now that everyone is in touch with their emotions and says exactly what they feel, even that pleasure has been taken away. Is there nothing the young haven’t usurped?”

And that sums up Fowler. Oh, not that he’s a curmudgeon, but that he really gets inside his characters and is able to even think up stuff like this, lol.

“Mr. Bryant has never been very successful with the ladies. His idea of a chat-up line used to be asking a girl if she’d like to see where he had his operation.”

“What did he show them?”

“The Royal Free Hospital.”

A totally intriguing story with scary, watery clues that did not add up, even as Fowler dribbled out the red herrings along this underground river of mystery. A totally anomalous death that makes no sense whatsoever, which is followed by yet more mysterious deaths that can’t possibly be connected, except they all take place among the residents of Balaklava Street.

One of the asides in The Water Room begins to explore why April is agoraphobic and why John feels so guilty about it. I did feel sorry for Heather with her obsession with being just right. As for Gareth, he’s a right idiot for being so concerned about appearances that he’s willing to go into debt and engage in nefarious activities. How does that thinking work?

Summerfield mentions the Waterhouse painting that was destroyed by a vandal, but we don’t read of that case until Seventy-Seven Clocks, 3, this case obviously takes place after 1973.

Most of the neighbors are rather nasty. And too probably typical people with their prejudices and emotional problems. Kallie sure makes me nuts with her obsession to keep that deadbeat Paul around. Why? If she’s a model, she must be pretty, so why make herself miserable with Paul? Tate drives me nuts as well. He’s always flitting away, leaving me wondering if he’s a secret serial killer or what. Of course, that crazy chase scene, which leads to even crazier discoveries, finally explains part of what Tate wants.

Historic crimes get their mention from Jack the Ripper to Peter Pan’s suicide. But they’re not nearly as exotic as the looming cases Bryant lists at the end, oh, man, lol.

Part of Bryant and May’s investigation leads them into a history of water in London from build-your-own supplies to the first toilet to the skinflint attitude of owners with sewer overflows to the evolution of today’s water supply system. If you’re fascinated with underground rivers, water systems, or sewers and their histories — and art, you do want to read this.

The Story

It was a great buy in an up-and-coming neighborhood, even if it’s previous owner had been murdered. Only it took almost all of Kallie’s money to buy, so she’s in for a lot of DIY work, especially with Paul taking off as he does.

It’s a labor of love, a fear of the gurgling and water seepage, a frustration with the electrical, and leads Kallie to an incredible discovery that threatens her existence.

The Characters

Detective Inspector (DI) Arthur Bryant is a loner in every way with a fascination for the occult and a preference for the old-fashioned while the fashion-conscious DI John May is quite sociable with a modern outlook. (He does beta testing for a Met R&D team.)

Alma Sorrowbridge is the Antiguan landlady who has tolerated Arthur for the past 40 years. April is John May’s agoraphobic granddaughter. The now-deceased Elizabeth had been her mother and John’s daughter. Alex is the only surviving child and wants nothing to do with John. Jane is May’s ex-wife.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) was…
…formed at the start of World War II to handle crime that might embarrass the government, and it evolved into a unit that takes on the odd cases — including its two lead detectives — as well as those that are politically sensitive and socially embarrassing, using their very odd, unorthodox methods. No longer under the Metropolitan Police purview, it’s now supervised by MI7 and has been shunted to the side as their old offices are rebuilt after events in Full Dark House, 1.

Sergeant Janice Longbright is engaged to Ian Hargreave who’s obsessed with interdepartmental politics. Giles Kershaw is the new forensic officer (and the Home Secretary’s brother-in-law) who is supposed to replace the ancient Dr. Oswald Finch. Detective Constables Colin Bimsley and Meera Mangeshkar (she brings valuable skills such as sarcasm and cynicism) and Dan Banbury, the new crime-scene manager and IT expert, have been assigned to the unit. The unfortunate Raymond Land is still their temporary supervisor. Crippen is the new stray Arthur adopted, who turns out to be Maggie’s lost familiar.

The Home Office liaison officers include the evasive Wyman who is full of excuses while Detective Chief Superintendent Stanley Marsden seems more easygoing. Sergeant Carfax blames Bryant for being passed over for promotion so many times.

A sometime consultant on English occult literature and pagan mythology for Bryant, Benjamin Singh is worried about his sister, Ruth, living alone in her house on…

…Balaklava Street where…
…her neighbors include Tamsin and Oliver Wilton (a senior executive with the Thames Water Board) with their son, Brewer (he’d rather be called David), at No. 43; the shy Egyptian woman, Fatima Karneshi, lives with her husband, Omar, a railway guard, at No. 4; Heather, a right tearaway and schoolfriend of Kallie’s, was fired from her last PR job, and George Allen, who travels a lot for his business, live at No. 6; Cleo is Heather’s cat; Jake Avery is a television producer who lives with Aaron, a teacher, in No. 41; a former art student, Elliot Copeland, a builder who can turn his hand to anything, is at No. 3; Randall and Kayla Ayson, devout Christians, have two children, Cassiday and Madison; No. 45 is a squat of medical students; Mark Garrett (he lives at No. 7 and his live-in partner is Lauren Kane) and Moss are aggressive estate agents; and, No. 37 is the Ethiopians who took over from Barbara and Charlie.

The responsible Kallie Owen, a model on the way down, just moved into No. 5 with her boyfriend, Paul Farrow, who works for a record company with financial problems. Unfortunately, he’s under the impression she’s pregnant. Neil is Paul’s brother. Helen Owen is Kallie’s cruel mother. Daniella had been a friend of Kallie’s.

Gareth Greenwood, a history academic, also leads tours, has a fascination for underground rivers, and he has a history of getting into trouble. Monica is his wife (a former lover of May’s) and a painter.

Tate is a tramp who should’ve opened his mouth and stays at the Holmes Road Working Men’s Hostel. Theresa is a bartender at the Pineapple pub. Hilary is the Sky One weather lady. Bondinis One and Two are brothers with a building supply and manufacturing company. Darren is one of their employees. Marshall Keftapolis is another one and seeing Aaron on the sly. Jackson Obeda has quite the record. Monsieur Edouard Assaad is a banker at Upper Nile FSG.

Maggie Armitage is one of Bryant’s oldest friends and the leader of the Coven of St. James the Elder. Their coven has moved from Camden Town to a sort-of chapel. Professor Kirkpatrick is a leading expert in semantics and cryptography, who was dishonorably discharged from the Met. Peregrine Summerfield is an art-historian friend of Bryant’s. Lilian is the wife who walked out. Betty Wagstaff heads up the Birmingham branch of the Coven of St. James the Elder. Dorothy Huxley is the library’s present and probably final custodian (her great-grandfather, Jebediah, had donated most of the books). Frank is her assistant. Rachel Ling works at The London River Society.

Jackie Quinten‘s son repairs musical instruments. Stanley Spencer was a split-style artist, and Gilbert Kingdom was one of his disciples with a more pagan approach. His work wasn’t popular, and he was eventually kicked to death by kids in Balaklava. His son, Emmanuel Kingdom, worked as a guard at the Tate Gallery.

The Effra, Fleet, Beverly Brook, and Walbrook are some of the lost rivers of London. Greenwood’s interest in the rivers reminded me of Ben Aaronovitch’s PC Peter Grant series.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a bright blue with the title large and in charge at the top in a white embossed font, each word stacked atop the other with a white horizontal rule separating them, and separating the white silhouettes of Bryant and May. The author’s name is at the bottom also in the embossed white font and above it is a modern woodcut of London Bridge and two women with their umbrellas, standing in the pelting rain.

The title is much too literally The Water Room with its mysterious gurglings and swooshings and beauty.

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2 responses to “Book Review: The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

  1. Oh, Laura, it is the most fascinating blend of old codger, the mystical occult, Miss Marple with a dash of Hercule Poirot, and a rogue group evading the powers-that-be as they work the way they want, lol.

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