Thursday, June 4, 2009

WHITE CORRIDOR by Christopher Fowler

The fifth novel in Fowler's Bryant & May series is still part of the D&C Required Reading list...but only because it's part of the series. On its own, it's a decent mystery novel, but lacking in the gothic grotesquerie that makes the previous books so much fun.

WHITE CORRIDOR begins with the employees of the Peculiar Crimes Unit on a forced vacation while their computer systems are updated. Bryant and May head off to Devon for a spiritualists' convention. However, a freak blizzard arises that traps them in a string of traffic on a snowbound road.

Now we have two mysteries arise. In London, a coroner is found dead in an autopsy room that's locked from the inside. And in Devon, Madeline, a fellow motorist trapped by the snow turns out to be a woman who fled England to escape an abusive husband, only to get entangled with a shady man who's also after her now that she's returned.

And also, a higher-up in the Home Office quickly arranges a visit from a cranky minor royal, in hopes of having the unit shut down once and for all.

So the pressure is on to solve the mystery of the dead coroner quickly. Bryant & May consult with their colleagues via cell phone, while assisting the panicked Madeline.

So really, not a bad set-up at all, but Fowler's obsessions with London's crumbling landscape and bizarre history, one of the fun parts of the series that set it apart, are largely absent from this book. There's a lot of great characterization, though, which keeps things moving. In fact, most of what gothicism there is in WHITE CORRIDOR is in the characters and their personalities, rather than their surroundings.

It's a good book, but it's just not up to the standards of the rest. I was led to suspect it's basically a place-holder between TEN SECOND STAIRCASE and the next book, THE VICTORIA VANISHES. When I get around to reading TVV, I'll let you know.

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