Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1)

Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1)

by Christopher Fowler

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When a bomb devastates the office of London's most unusual police unit and claims the life of its oldest detective, Arthur Bryant, his surviving partner John May searches for clues to the bomber's identity. His search takes him back to the day the detectives first met as young men in 1940.

In Blitz-ravaged London, a beautiful dancer rehearsing for a sexy, sinister production of 'Orpheus In The Underworld' is found without her feet. Bryant&May's investigation plunges them into a bizarre gothic mystery, where a faceless man stalks terrified actors and death strikes in darkness. Tracking their quarry through the blackout, searching for a murderer who'll stop at nothing to be free of a nightmare, the duo unwittingly follow the same path Orpheus took when leading Euridyce from the shadows of Hell.

Back in the present day, John May starts to wonder if their oldest adversary might be the killer who took his partner's life. He must work alone to solve a puzzle that began over half a century earlier...

In a war-shaken city of myths, rumours and fear, Bryant&May discover that a house is not always a home, nothing is as it appears, the most cunning criminals hide in plain sight, and the devil has all the best tunes. Dark drama and black comedy combine as Bryant&May take centre stage in their first great case.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553900415
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2004
Series: Peculiar Crimes Unit Series , #1
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 34,345
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Christopher Fowler is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Full Dark House and nine other Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries: The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, Ten Second Staircase, White Corridor, The Victoria Vanishes, Bryant & May on the Loose, Bryant & May off the Rails, The Memory of Blood, and The Invisible Code. He lives in London, where he is at work on his next Peculiar Crimes Unit novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Out With A Bang

It really was a hell of a blast.

The explosion occurred at daybreak on the second Tuesday morning of September, its shock waves rippling through the beer-stained streets of Mornington Crescent. It detonated car alarms, hurled house bricks across the street, blew a chimney stack forty feet into the sky, ruptured the eardrums of several tramps, denuded over two dozen pigeons, catapulted a surprised ginger tom through the window of a kebab shop and fired several roofing tiles into the forehead of the Pope, who was featured on a poster for condoms opposite the tube station.

As the dissonance pulsed the atmosphere it fractured the city’s fragile caul of civilization, recalling another time of London bombs. Then, as now, dust and debris had speckled down through the clear cool air between the buildings, whitening the roads and drifting in the morning sunlight like dandelion seeds. For a split second, the past and the present melted together.

It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured.

Or so it seemed at first.

When Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright received the phone call, her first thought was that she had overslept and missed the start of her shift. Then she remembered that she had just celebrated her retirement from the police force. Years of being woken at odd hours had taught her to focus her attention within three rings of the bedside telephone. Rubbing dreams from her head, she glanced at the clock and listened to the urgent voice in her ear. She rose from the side of her future husband, made her way quietly (as quietly as she could; she was heavy-footed and far from graceful) through the flat, dressed and drove to the offices above Mornington Crescent tube station.

Or rather, she drove to what was left of them, because the North London Peculiar Crimes Unit had, to all intents and purposes, been obliterated. The narrow maze of rooms that had existed in the old Edwardian house above the station was gone, and in its place wavered fragments of burning lath-and-plaster alcoves. The station below was untouched, but nothing remained of the department that had been Longbright’s working home.

She made her way between the fire engines, stepping across spit-sprays from snaked hosepipes, and tried to discern the extent of the damage. It was one of those closed-in mornings that would barely bother to grow light. Grey cloud fitted as tightly over the surrounding terraces as a saucepan lid, and the rain that dampened the churning smoke obscured her view. The steel-reinforced door at the entrance to the unit had been blown out. Firemen were picking their way back down the smouldering stairs as she approached. She recognized several of the officers who were taping off the pavement and road beyond, but there was no sign of the unit’s most familiar faces.

An ominous coolness crept into the pit of her stomach as she watched the yellow-jacketed salvage team clearing a path through the debris. She dug into the pocket of her overcoat, withdrew her mobile and speed-dialled the first of the two numbers that headed her list. Eight rings, twelve rings, no answer.

Arthur Bryant had no voicemail system at home. Longbright had ceased encouraging him to record messages after his ‘static surge’ experiments had magnetized the staff of a British Telecom call centre in Rugby. She tried the second number. After six rings, John May’s voice told her to leave a message. She was about to reply when she heard him behind her.

‘Janice, you’re here.’ May’s black coat emphasized his wide shoulders and made him appear younger than his age (he was somewhere in his eighties—no one was quite sure where). His white hair was hidden under a grey woollen hat. Streaks of charcoal smeared his face and hands, as though he was preparing to commit an act of guerrilla warfare.

‘John, I was just calling you.’ Longbright was relieved to see someone she recognized. ‘What on earth happened?’

The elderly detective looked shaken but uninjured, a thankfully late arrival at the blast scene. ‘I have absolutely no idea. The City of London Anti-terrorist Unit has already discounted political groups. There were no call signs of any sort.’ He looked back at the ruined building. ‘I left the office at about ten last night. Arthur wanted to stay on. Arthur . . .’ May widened his eyes at the blasted building as if seeing it for the first time. ‘He always says he doesn’t need to sleep.’

‘You mean he’s inside?’ asked Longbright.

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘Are you sure he was still there when you left?’

‘No question about it. I rang him when I got home. He told me he was going to work right through the night. Said he wasn’t tired and wanted to clear the backlog. You know how he is after a big case, he opens a bottle of Courvoisier and keeps going until dawn. His way of celebrating. Mad at his age. There was something in his voice . . .’

‘What do you mean?’

May shook his head. ‘I don’t know. As though he wanted to talk to me but changed his mind, that weird hesitation thing he does on the phone. Some officers in an ARV from the Holmes Road division saw him standing at the window at around four thirty. They made fun of him, just as they always do. He opened the window and told them to bugger off, threw a paperweight at them. I should have stayed with him.’

‘Then we would have lost both of you,’ said Longbright. She looked up at the splintered plaster and collapsed brickwork. ‘I mean, he can’t still be alive.’

‘I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.’

A tall young man in a yellow nylon jacket came over. Liberty DuCaine was third-generation Caribbean, currently attached to the unit in a forensic team with two young Indian women, the brightest students from their year. Liberty hated his name, but his brother Fraternity, who was also in the force, hated his more. Longbright raised her hand.

‘Hey, Liberty. Do they have any idea why—’

‘An incendiary device of some kind, compact but very powerful. You can see from here how clean the blast pattern is. Very neat. It destroyed the offices but hasn’t even singed the roof of the station.’ The boy’s impatience to explain his ideas resulted in a staccato manner of speech that May had trouble keeping up with. ‘There are some journalists sniffing around, but they won’t get anything. You OK?’

‘Arthur couldn’t have got out in time.’

‘I know that. They’ll find him, but we’re waiting for a JCB to start moving some of the rafters. They haven’t picked up anything on the sound detectors and I don’t think they will, ’cos the place came down like a pack of cards. There’s not a lot holding these old houses in one piece, see.’ Liberty looked away, embarrassed to be causing further discomfort.

Longbright started walking towards the site, but May gently held her back. ‘Let me take you home, Janice,’ he offered.

She shrugged aside the proffered hand. ‘I’m all right, I just didn’t think it would end like this. It is the end, isn’t it?’ Longbright was already sure of the answer. Arthur Bryant and John May were men fashioned by routines and habits. They had closed a case and stayed on to analyse the results, catching up, enjoying each other’s company. It was what they always did, their way of starting afresh. Everyone knew that. John had left the building first, abandoning his insomniac partner.

‘Who’s conducting the search? They’ll have to verify—’

‘The fire department’s first priority is to make sure it’s safe,’ said Liberty. ‘Of course they’ll report their findings as quickly as possible. Anything I hear, you’ll know. John’s right, you should go home, there’s nothing you can do.’

May stared up at the building, suddenly unsure of himself.

Longbright watched the column of rusty smoke rising fast in the still grey air. She felt disconnected from the events surround- ing her. It was the termination of a special partnership; their names had been inextricably linked, Bryant, May, Longbright. Now she had left and Bryant was gone, leaving May alone. She had spent so much time in their company that the detectives were more familiar than her closest relatives, like friendly monochrome faces in old films. They had been, and would always be, her family.

Longbright realized she was crying even before she registered the shout, as though time had folded back on itself. A fireman was calling from the blackened apex of the building. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, would not allow herself to hear it. As she ran towards the ruins with the fire officers at her heels, the familiar codes started passing through the rescue group.

A single body, an elderly white male, had been located in the wreckage. For Arthur Bryant and John May, an unorthodox alliance had come to a violent end. They were her colleagues, her mentors, her closest friends. She would not allow herself to believe that Bryant was dead.

An immolation had joined the end to the beginning, past and present blown together. John May had always sensed that routine demise would not be enough for his partner. They had just closed a sad, cruel case, their last together. There were no more outstanding enemies. Bryant had finally started thinking about retirement as the unit headed for a period of radical change, sanctioned by new Home Office policies. He and May had been discussing them only the Friday before, during their customary evening walk to the river. May thought back to their conversation, trying to recall whether they had spoken of anything unusual. They had strolled to Waterloo Bridge at sunset, arguing, joking, at ease in each other’s company.

John and Arthur, inseparable, locked together by proximity to death, improbable friends for life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"An absolutely riveting account of London during the Blitz."—Booklist

"Atmospheric, hugely beguiling and as filled with tricks and sleights of hand as a magician's sleeve...it is English gothic at its eccentric best; a combination of Ealing comedy and grand opera: witty, charismatic, occasionally touching and with a genuine power to thrill." —Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"A first class thriller, but don't expect any sleep." —Sunday Telegraph

"The writing is as ever fluid and pacey, the characterization deft and the plot fresh and ingenious." —Independent on Sunday

"The intrigues of the theater murders, which decimate the cast, create considerable drama..... The dynamic between May and Bryant makes for compelling reading"—Publishers Weekly

“How many locked-room puzzles can the duo unlock before their Peculiar Crimes Unit is disbanded? Many more, one hopes.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A madcap mystery that’s completely crazy and great fun.” —Los Angeles Times

“Chris Fowler is a master of the classical form.” —New Y ork Times Book Review

Customer Reviews

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Full Dark House (Peculiar Crimes Unit Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
KKR More than 1 year ago
I have spent many weeks in London over the years, so I was prepared to like this first in a series of novels about an offbeat crime-solving team in that city. I read this novel and its sequels with my A to Z street guide in hand. While the present time focus is on a terrorist bombing of their headquarters, or so it seems, the back story tells of the very first case the detective team of Bryant and May ever worked on together, at a theater during the Blitz in 1942. It was engrossing--both complex and inventive, but also humorous and ironic. I immediately ordered every other novel in the series, and I am now on the latest, published in November 2008,called The Victoria Vanishes. The Victoria in question is not the train station, as I had first believed, nor the express train to Brighton from that station or to and from Gatwick, but a pub named the Victoria Cross. As befits Bryant's (and Fowler's) fascination with London, we need a history of London pubs in order to solve the pub murders accurately. I hope these old guys go on forever.
cincmom More than 1 year ago
A little slow at the start but I couldn't put the book down after the first 50 or so pages. Nice character development.
ManiB More than 1 year ago
Fowler is a wonderful author and the first book in his Bryant and May goes to prove that. You'll be left guessing up until the very end and love every moment of it. The characters are dynamic and it has been an absolute treat to have stumbled across this author.
SkatesNYC More than 1 year ago
This book was great! It had great quirky characters, history, humor. Cant wait to read the rest of the series.
BookWorm8 More than 1 year ago
I read books from several genres but I haven't picked up a mystery in a while. This book got me completely hooked on mysteries again! I've already bought another book from the same author to read. The appealing quality is the flashbacks to WWII era London juxtaposed with current terrorist situations in London. The similarities and differences from each era are very interesting. Great read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book cover caught my eye I must admit. (I'm all about the marketing.) I found it slow going. Usually, I am a very fast reader, but just couldn't get into this one. I've picked it up and put it back down about three times now and am only about 1/4 of the way through. I will finish it eventually, but just haven't found myself that interested. I normally start and finish a book in a day, but this one hasn't grabbed me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright learns from long time Detective John May that an explosion killed his peer Detective Arthur Bryant. John and Arthur first met when the Peculiar Crimes Unit was established in 1940 and they investigated a weird murder of a dancer at the Palace Theatre. That case with its odd occult like feel forms the start of a long time friendship and partnership.................................. Now both octogenarians, it appears that Arthur was writing his memoirs when a six decades old bomb from the World War II Blitz exploded and killed him. John, who had talked to his buddy just prior to his death, finds a design of the Palace amongst the ruins of Bryant¿s residence. Was his partner killed because someone wants the sixty plus years old crime to remain cold or was this just an accident caused by the victim¿s own absent minded brilliant lifestyle? John believes murder has occurred and he plans to prove it...................................... FULL DARK HOUSE is a terrific police procedural that uses an occult like homicide from 1940 as the motive for a modern day killing. The story line is driven by the octogenarian John and to a degree supplemented by his long time detective partner Arthur though the latter is dead and appears more as either flashback thoughts or the victim. The sleuthing is fabulous and the support cast realistically add depth to the hero, but when all is said and done this novel belongs to dedicated John, who somewhat obsessed in solving his pal¿s death hopefully is around for a decade or two solving more London murders............................... Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 7 months ago
teckelvik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. The structure (two mysteries, 60 years apart, being solved by the same people, in the same places, presented in alternating chapters) was at first a little disconcerting. It gave me a feeling of being a bit adrift in time, which went well with the book. Then I settled in, and it was a nice back and forth. The mystery was well-written, and worked for me. The setting was very well done. I have some familiarity with modern London, and I enjoyed the way it felt. I'm still thinking about some of the gender stuff, I may come back with more to say about that.The only reason that this didn't get five stars from me is because I didn't actually particularly like any of the characters. They were OK, but that's all. I usually prefer to enjoy people I'm going to spend so much time with. However, I will be following up with this series.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Leave it to the Brits to have a "Peculiar Crimes Unit," fictional though it is. Part of the London Police Department, it was founded just before World War II. Its two super sleuths are Arthur Bryant and John May. Full Dark House is the story of the duo's first and last cases.Their last case involves the mysterious death of Arthur Bryant in an explosion that destroys the building that houses the Peculiar Crimes Unit. As John May, now in his 80s, tries making sense of what happened to his partner of sixty years, he comes to believe the contemporary crime is rooted in their first case -- one that was not satisfactorily solved. He revisits the earlier case to solve both. The pair's first case was in 1940 during The Blitz -- when German bombers bedeviled England almost nightly and a city-wide blackout was in force. A dancer is killed in the darkened Palace Theater -- and the method of her death is, indeed, most peculiar. That single death turns into a string of increasingly grotesque murders, all of the people associated with the Palace's current production: Orpheus in the Underworld. Nineteen-year-old John May has just joined the Peculiar Crimes Unit, not knowing for certain what he's to do. His elder by just a few years, Arthur Bryant isn't all that much more experienced, but he leads the investigation. The author skillfully moves back and forth between the two investigations, creating for the reader a particularly realistic (or so it seems to me) portrayal of London during the Blitz. I was prepared to like Full Dark House and I did. The author populated it with eccentric British characters: theatre people, police officers and, of course, Bryant and May. The writing was topnotch -- not a quick read, however -- and I was particularly pleased with the way the author resolved both cases. This book left me wanting more of Bryant and May's in-between cases.By Diana. First published in Mystery News, August-September 2004 edition.Review based on publisher- or author-provided review copy.
jimgysin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This one was well on its way to being a 4-star, but the ridiculously unbelievable motivations of the murderer just ruined it for me in the final pages. I'll give the next in the series a chance, as I love the X-Files-ish concept and the WWII time period. I really want to like this series, but if the next one ends up with key elements coming off as equally unbelievable, I'm done.
piemouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mystery with flashbacks between the present and a case in 1940 with multiple murders in a theater. The detectives are likeable but the mystery was only so-so ¿ I guessed the killer and several plot points early on, which is unusual for me. Also the killer¿s motivation was fairly ridiculous, but that¿s not exactly unusual in mysteries.
FicusFan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
his is the first book in the Bryant and May or Peculiar Crimes Unit series. It was a RL book group read for me.I enjoyed it, but found the writing very dense for some reason. It was not choppy and was well done, but didn't flow quite as easily as other well written books. I can't put my finger on why.The story is set in the UK in London, and follows 2 police officers, Bryant and May. They are partners, and bicker like an old married couple. The story has 2 threads, a modern day one with the detectives being in their 70s, but still on active duty. The other thread is set during WWII, and chronicles their meeting and first case together. Something bad happens in the modern day thread and it is connected their first case back in WWII.The first case was set in a theatre that was getting ready to open a play. Actors and family/friends end up dying in gruesome ways as they are there for rehearsing and other work related reasons. In some ways it seems very Murders of the Rue Morgue - ish . The blitz is on, and everything is in very short supply. Both the police and the actors are trying to make ends meet and survive.The story seems to skip around with multiple POVS, perhaps thats the delay for me. I always knew who the POV was, but while I didn't mind the police, I wasn't so thrilled when some of the actors became POVs. I didn't want to get tangled up in their life story, and so on.About mid-way through there are enough clues to deduce that the bad thing in the modern thread, didn't really happen as reported. That made me happy. I didn't guess who the killer was, there was a nice red herring that distracted me.I will say that the explanation for the Peculiar Crimes unit - didn't really have enough substance or reality for me. It was more a case of Bryant being extremely peculiar, and it seemed far fetched that the British Police in the middle of a war, would develop a whole unit just for him. The unit was going before May joined. Bryant has a history of consulting mediums, psychics, and other fringe spiritualists. He also uses new-fangled and unproven scientific methods to find clues and solve cases. They work on cases the establishment, for one reason or another, don't want the press or anyone to know about. Bryant is very eccentric and quite an interesting character. May is calm and normal and grounds Bryant. The rest of the characters are OK.I do have another book that I bought and I will read it. After that I will decide if I am going to continue with the series. I just have so many books to read, and so many series I am already following. Not sure I want to add more.
drneutron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I first looked at Full Dark House, I suspected that it wouldn't offer much that was new. After all, it's got the quirky genius detective, the sidekick, an out-of-the-box mystery handed off to the detective and his band of misfits...Fortunately, I was proven wrong. Fowler has conceived of a set of real people in theses pages. Bryant and May manage to escape stereotype and become characters the reader comes to care about. The mystery was a bit weaker than I had hoped - the author admits his debt to an earlier work with a sly reference to Claude Raines. But this in no way spoiled the book for me. This is the first in a series, and I'm looking forward to the rest!
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really liked it, could hardly understand it. All books in this series take two readings.
taramatchi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Peculiar Crimes Unit is kind of a renegade police unit. They do things their own way and take cases that the regular detectives don't want or are just too weird. I found that this book reminded me of Scooby Doo mysteries: a bit of Paranormal that has to have a reasonable explanation. It took a while to build the stories and the characters, but by the end I was very interested to see what the outcome would be. I will definitely check out more in the series.
mpemulis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well done. Enjoyed it quite a lot. Not what I expected but still liked it.
MrsLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed Full Dark House! Finally a mystery which I did not have any idea how it would resolve. It's been awhile since I've read one of those. Also, I loved the flow between past and present, the atmosphere of the London Blitz, the digging into Greek mythology and the way the author let the characters reveal themselves and each other through their actions and interactions. I am very much looking forward to discovering more about this Christopher Fowler.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If I had to classify this novel in terms of genre, it would be somewhere along the lines of British police procedural meets the X-files. I was thinking while I was reading this that it would make a fun movie, but I countered that thought with the knowledge that some screenwriter would just screw it up, so better to leave it in book format. What a cool book! I originally bought this book in mass market paperback format eons ago, but never got around to reading it until I saw the same book in trade paper size (which I really prefer), and I pounced on it. I picked it up last night and didn't look back until I finished it this morning. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.brief summary; no spoilers here: Arthur Bryant, a most eccentric partner in detection of John May, was revisiting the pair's first case together some 60 years later, and the lab he was working was blown to kingdom come, taking Bryant with it. John May, of course, whose friendship with Bryant has lasted throughout their career as detectives in the Peculiar Crimes Unit (started during the Blitz in London), is devastated, and realizes that to solve the case of Bryant's death, he has to go back in time to re-examine their first case, since that was what Bryant was working on. It turns out that this case involved a very bizarre production of Orpheus in the Underworld, complete with can-can and high French knickers by the dancers at the end. They were assigned to the case when a pair of feet were discovered on the charcoal brazier of a Turkish street vendor - leading them to the death of a dancer in the theater staging the production. After that, the show was plagued with problems that required special assistance from the Peculiar Crimes Unit -- for example, a medium whose cat channeled the spirit of a dead pilot, along with other, shall we say, more unorthodox methodologies of crime solving. But back to the future: May will not rest until he solves Bryant's death, so he tries to put the missing pieces together to do so. The book weaves both past and present together to get to the root of the modern-day tragedy, and does it well by examining the original case back at the time of the Blitz. The characters, however, make this novel what it is. Bryant and May are very well suited to each other, and the rest of the characters are not droll toadies relegated to the background, but have lives of their own here. I'm very big on the use of place & setting as a character of its own within a novel, and here Fowler has done that -- the darkness of blacked-out London during the bombings has its own personality. Fowler's descriptions of how people coped and how society worked during the Blitz was also very well done.I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes British mysteries, and to people who like mystery spiced with a bit of the fantastic & paranormal, but done so in a way that doesn't turn silly and take you off on ridiculous tangents. I already know I'm going to really enjoy this series and can't wait to get to the others.
erikschreppel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not at all what I expected. Very well written. Based on the review blurbs, and the cover art I expected this to be a light hearted book similar to the tone of Jasper Ffordes Book Crime series. Instead it was a more serious murder mystery with supernatural undertones. Loved the interplay with present time and WWII blitz era. The two main characters that Fowler has created are wonderfully written, he has fully drawn out each of them so that neither is overshadowed by the other. The plot certainly kept me guessing until the very end. Hope the other books in this series are as good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn’t enjoy this as much as I expected to. Read one of the others on the series and liked it a lot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good plot. Didn't like jumping back and forth in time with out transition markers. But the twisty plot redeemed it. Slow read at times. I do like it enough that I bought a few more of the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They story's main characters are likeable quirky and the writer can set a good mood. But for me, the story moved too slow, the British terminology and theater references were confusing, and worst of all - the ending felt like a cheat. I won't be in a hurry to busy another. Not to my liking. Sorry
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great start to a great series. They do get better as well.
pat99 More than 1 year ago
I rarely stop reading a book once i've started, but this one was just not very compelling. It starts with a newly retired female detective, which is interesting, except then the book has almost nothing to do with her. Then we get the two main character detectives, who are pretty interesting. But the mystery is not very interesting, and the author does not make it clear which of the many dull characters in the theater we should be remembering, or paying attention to, or anything. We don't have enough information to like or dislike them or even care. Meanwhile, we are given many, many details of items that exist in old theaters, but it is not clear which of these we should remember, or if they are important at all. I heard good things about this series, so I was very disappointed in the book.