The Water Room (#2) by Christopher Fowler

A Bryant & May Mystery

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; New edition edition (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0553815539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553815535

Synopsis from Transworld:

Originally built to house the workers of Victorian London, Balaklava Street is now an oasis in the heart of Kentish Town and ripe for gentrification. But then the body of an elderly woman is found at Number 5. Her death would appear to have been peaceful but for the fact that her throat is full of river water. It falls to the Met’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, led by London’s longest-serving detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, to search for something resembling a logical solution. 

Their initial investigations draw a blank and Bryant’s attention is diverted into strange and arcane new territory, while May finds himself in hot water when he attempts to save the reputation of an academic whose knowledge of the city’s forgotten underground rivers looks set to ruin his career. In the meantime, the new owner of Number 5 is increasingly unsettled by the damp in the basement of her home, the particularly resilient spiders and the ghostly sound of rushing water . . .

Pooling their information to investigate hitherto undiscovered secrets of the city, Bryant and May make some sinister connections and realize that, in a London filled with the rich, the poor and the dispossessed, there’s still something a desperate individual is willing to kill for – and kill again to protect. With the PCU facing an uncertain future, the death toll mounts and two of British fiction’s most enigmatic detectives must face madness, greed and revenge, armed only with their wits, their own idiosyncratic practices and a plentiful supply of boiled sweets, in a wickedly sinuous mystery that goes to the heart of every London home.


Having previously thoroughly enjoyed ‘Bryant & May on the Loose’ #7 in this mystery series I chose this book from those available as the final one in my Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.  You won’t be able to read that review here as it was in the days before I blogged! I was looking forward to The Water Room, read on to find out whether it met my expectations …

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is in a world of its own.  The team defuse politically sensitive and socially embarrassing situations which was set up during WWII… and what a team it is!  Led by Bryant & May who are totally opposite in character, we follow their investigations that take us totally out of the box and make us think laterally.  The team all have quirky and very interesting personalities (wellI think they do!) and it was great for me to be able to re-visit them.

The story starts with Arthur Bryant, at the end of a 13 week heatwave, freelancing as a city tour guide in London.  Here we are introduced to his character.  He descends into nostalgia, remembering things as they were during his childhood. 

There is the chaos of the re-fitting of the PCU’s offices and then the murder of Ruth Singh at No. 5 Balaklava Street occurs … and so begins the supposedly convoluted path we take through this mystery.  Young couple Kallie and Paul buy No. 5 and we meet the rest of the residents at a cocktail party. 

Running alongside the murder we get involved in John May trying to save a rival academic from further humiliation who is involved insomething illegal.

I really enjoy the wit, humour and lack of respect for government rules/guidelines.  The bumbling on the surface hides a powerhouse underneath.  Interspersed with the building tension ofthe investigations we have the joy of getting to know the colourful and quirky personalities that make up the team and those of the characters involved.

There’s also a very brief dip into psychogeography (although not named as such) in the story.  I came across this in the book ‘The Lost Art of Walking’ by Geoff Nicholson which I reviewed this month. 

Remembering Arthur Bryant’s knowledge of the esoteric from my previous read, I was hoping this would also feature somewhere in the story and I wasn’t disappointed!

I have an interest in the history of London because my paternal line migrated there in the very early 1800’s – there are bizarre facts related to London in The Water Room – which gives these mysteries an added pull for me.  I also have ancestors that were river pilots on the Thames, master coopers and master shipwrights at Blackwall, so this also pulls me in as water is the key to this particular mystery.

I find the way the author writes easy to read, everything happens when it should, the building tension has you turning the pages and getting totally lost in this world.  I loved the figurative language for example ‘Pigeons living in the high iron rafters dropped down through the hall, their wings fluttering like the ruffled pages of old books’.  I didn’t guess the perpetrator or the identity of someone else who is key to the story.

The Water Room is more than a mystery.  There is the intrigue of the psychological profiles of the characters and the relationships between them, the sense ofcommunity (or lack of) all played out amidst the historical city of London.

I think you can all guess the rating I am going to give …

As I said, this is the last book in my Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge.  I’ve read four fantastic books, three have received my highest rating of ‘buy it but be loathe to share your copy, it’s a keeper.’  I would like to say thank you to Transworld for creating this challenge and I hope it runs again next year.  If it does, I will definitely be taking part. 

You can read more about Christopher Fowler on his blog.  You can also follow him on Twitter.

One thought on “The Water Room (#2) by Christopher Fowler

  1. Pingback: Jera’s Jamboree reviews: The Memory of Blood (Bryant & May mystery) Christopher Fowler | Jera's Jamboree

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