Christopher Fowler’s The White Corridor is the fifth in his Bryant and May murder mystery series which is a homage to the golden age of crime fiction and usually comes with a very strong London backdrop. This time, however, his two detectives from the Peculiar Crimes Unit – John May and Arthur Bryant – spend much of the book stuck in a snow drift in South West England.
That relocation of his the pair helps keep the book fresh even for devotees of the series as it allows some of the basic characteristics of the series to continue, but in a new and plausible form. So yes, once again, Bryant is poor at keeping his colleagues informed as to what he is up to, but being stuck miles away in the snow makes this a natural state of affairs rather than a strained repeat of a standard series formula.
The further development of both Bryant and May’s characters continues in this book with a significant twist to the John May family story whilst Arthur Bryant’s idiosyncrasies once again frequently steal the scene. You can see the development of the author’s skill through the successive novels as by this fifth novel in the series those eccentricities are just – just – the right side of plausible whilst also being sufficiently bizarre to have great comedy effect. (A sample of the book titles we discover Bryant has in his office are “Code-Breaking in Braille” and “Colonic Exercises for Asthmatics”.) This is unlike earlier in the series where Bryant’s weird effect on IT strayed over the line into the clearly impossible as Fowler stretched just a little too far and tried just a little too hard for comedy effect.
The book takes a little longer to get going than previous ones in the series not only because of the (now traditional) detailed development of the main characters at the start but also because this time a new narrative thread that starts very slowly is entwined with the Peculiar Crimes Unit threads.
The heart of the plot is an homage to the classic locked room mystery – a member of the police no less is killed inside a locked room. That results in everyone in the Peculiar Crimes Unit, save for May and Bryant off in the snow, a suspect and as the story unfolds from multiple perspectives we eventually get a resolution that is both satisfying and again just – just – the right side of plausible.
The detailed regular characters in the series means it is best read in order, but there are explanations of key points from earlier volumes scattered through the text, meaning this is a series you can start out of place – such as with this volume – if you wish.