Monday, October 19, 2009

A refusal to be ordinary (Books - The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler)

The Victoria Vanishes was a funny, smart, and satisfying mystery, containing Christopher Fowler's trademark detective team - Bryant and May and their Peculiar Crimes Unit - and driven by a disdain for the ordinary.
'I hate small-mindedness,' he suddenly announced after several minutes of contemplative silence. 'The notices everywhere warning us not to trip over or turn left or take our dogs off leads. That annoying recorded voice in post offices telling you which counter is free. I bought some peas in the supermarket last week and do you know what it said on the packet? "Does not contain nuts." I hate the endless admonishments of a nanny state that lives in fear of its lawyers...

Once our children played on bomb sites and collected exploded shells. Now they're driven to school by paranoid parents in SUVs. The determination of dullards can always be counted upon to challenge the merits of innovators.' He noisily sucked on the pipe until the bowl's embers sparkled against the cloud-grey waters. 'To be popular in this city you have to be average, and the PCUs unusual approach to the attainment of excellence won't allow it to survive.'
Bryant's cranky refusal to be ordinary (as if it were a choice) is the amusing common theme of this entertaining detective series and an older London that is visible beneath the veneer of the contemporary one is its backdrop. Fowler celebrates the value of people who don't fit in with wonderfully written characters, and weaves the treasures of his city's history cleverly into the intriguing plots of his mysteries. This one had a particularly good twist, although I found the denoument a little on the long winded side. The final pages offer a list of the pubs and their addresses that Fowler mentions (pubs are the important element of London history that figure in this book). An excellent resource for my next trip to London!

Here are my other posts on The Victoria Vanishes 1, 2.

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