I just finished Christopher Fowler’s Peculiar London, and now I want to go back to the city for another visit. It is a, well, peculiar book (though great fun for the right reader), seemingly random and meandering, with little differentiation between the grand and the trivial. The observations are presented as introduced by the detective Arthur Bryant and others of the author’s characters, though they all sound much the same. There’s a bit of a beginning & ending, but for the most part you could shuffle the chapters any which way with no one the wiser (sadly, the book lacks an index).
JOHN MAY: I’m finding this a little hard to follow, Arthur.
ARTHUR BRYANT: These are my notes. They’re in no particular order.
JOHN MAY: Clearly.
I can’t begin to summarize the copious and wide-ranging content, so I’ll quote the flap copy, which says the book offers a tour of “odd buildings, odder characters, lost venues, forgotten disasters, confusing routes, dubious gossip, illicit pleasures, and hidden pubs.”
I’ve met these characters before, and it’s hard for me to imagine the reaction of a reader encountering them for the first time in this context. Fowler says his agent’s first reaction was “Oh, it’s a Bryant & May book, just without the murder plot.” But when it comes to long books on London (it’s 475 pages), I find this one much more readable than Peter Ackroyd’s oh-so-serious London: The Biography.
An abiding interest in London may be a prerequisite to the book’s enjoyment. But how could you not be interested in London?
On February 1, 2023, Christopher Fowler wrote about this post on Twitter, “You see, readers, this is how to put a smile on a knackered old writer’s face.”
On March 3, 2023, he passed away at the age of 69. The death was not unexpected. He had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2020, and at some point was told it was terminal. He wrote about this on his blog (https://www.christopherfowler.co.uk/blog/2021/10/27/so-youve-got-cancer/).