Seventy-Seven Clocks


Christopher Fowler


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

May 25, 2006

ormally, I like to start at the beginning of a series. However, this is the third book in the Bryant & May series, though it is the first one I read. I happened to see it at the library, and impulsively checked it out.

Bryant and May are two cantankerous old detectives, (though this installment is a throwback to their younger days - when they are in their 50's) who head up London's Peculiar Crime Unit. They are assigned to the most bizarre cases.

The body count in this novel is high. Right from the start, a lawyer collapses in the lobby of the Savoy hotel. Autopsy reveals that apparently he died of a venomous snake bite. A couple of eccentric wealthy brothers - the Whitstables - are introduced, and both are quickly dispatched by grisly and bizarre methods - just the type of quirky crimes that call in Bryant and May.

If I had read the first two (highly praised) books in this series, I might have had a better appreciation for these characters, but I kept getting confused - which was Arthur Bryant and which one is John May? One is supposed to long for the past, shunning the modern world (he keeps losing his cellphone), collecting books. The other is fastidious and disciplined, embracing technology and forensics. I think Bryant is the historian, and May is the modern guy, but I sorta got confused a lot in this book. Not that it matters a whole lot.

A side thread to the story, concerning a hotel clerk named Jerry (Jerry is a she), doesn't fare as well as the main plot. It is Jerry who first realizes there is something amiss with the snake bit lawyer at the Savoy, it is Jerry who is first on the murder scene in the hotel barber shop. Jerry wants to involve herself with the case, and offers to help the police. She even gathers some clues, but this side story peters out, her detective work falls by the way side. The resolution of the Jerry thread is sorta lame.

The murders continue, and the crimes get more bizarre. Apparently, someone is out to get the entire Whitstable clan. One woman perishes while watching the theater - analysis reveals that poison was mixed into her makeup, which she reapplied at halftime. I think this novel is deliberately meant to recall the Sherlock Holmes style of mysteries. If you think back, the Hound of the Baskervilles, the Speckled Band, the Sign of Four - none of these plots is routine foul play solved with straightforward detective work. Instead, they are bizarre crimes with nefarious villains - think Moriarity. Fowler is mining this same vein. Especially at the climatic end, when all is revealed - this is not a plausible mystery, it is escapist fare that would make a nice movie plot (think James Bond plausability.) I am not saying the story is unenjoyable, I am merely commenting on the type of book that this is. More of an adventure yarn than a police procedural. I liked it well enough that I will keep the Water Room, the first book in this series, on my "to be read someday" book list.