Seventy-seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler: A review

 

Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) series is a favorite with my husband who has read about half of them. (There are twenty books in the series so far.) Periodically, he recommends the reading of them to me and I say that I will get to them. As a matter of fact, I have read two of them; the first one, Full Dark House, I read in 2014 and the second one, The Water Room, I read in 2017. Now it's four years later and I decided it was probably time for number three. So on to Seventy-seven Clocks.

The chief detectives of the PCU are two elderly men, John May and Arthur Bryant. May is the dapper, organized one who follows clues where they lead. Bryant is the disheveled, instinctive, aging hippie type. Their skills complement each other and together they are a formidable team. The events of this book take place in 1973 and the idea of the narrative is that the events are being relayed to a reporter by Bryant at a later date.

The plot of the novel involves a large, unruly, and mostly despicable family, the Whitsables, and their history with the goldsmith and watchmaker guilds. The watchmaker guild was actually an offshoot of the goldsmith guild and it was a johnny-come-lately to the world of guilds having been formed in the 16th century. Most of the other guilds had been formed in the 14th century. The founder of the Whitsable clan had been deeply involved with the watchmakers. In the 19th century, he set up a group and a plan to protect his family's business interests by sabotaging or taking out anyone who competed with them. A hundred years later, his devious plan is still in place and still apparently working. But then something goes horribly wrong. 

It begins with an act of vandalism. A senior member of the Whitsable clan dressed in Edwardian garb goes to the National Gallery where he flings acid on a famous painting. Then various Whitsables and associates, including the art vandal, are killed, one by one, in a variety of imaginative ways. One dies from snake venom, except the snake doesn't exist in England. Another victim explodes. Two are killed by a Bengal tiger. One is poisoned by rat powder added to her face powder. And the deaths continue, with no apparent suspects. Bryant and May are flummoxed.

The plot starts out being complicated and it only becomes more tortuous and downright labyrinthine as the story progresses. I was okay with that at the beginning and was thoroughly enjoying the book until about three-quarters of the way through when the plot just became so outlandish and unbelievable that I sort of lost interest and by the end, I didn't really care anymore. I was just glad to see it end.

On the other hand, Bryant and May themselves with their eccentricities and quirky relationships are great fun to read about. Moreover, the secondary characters here were appealing, especially a young woman named Geraldine (Jerry) who is fascinated by the investigation and manages to help it along. Maybe the PCU should hire her.

Christopher Fowler is quite a talented writer and the book does have interesting characters and a lot of humor and some wonderful moments. Even though the last quarter of it dragged a bit, on the whole, it was a fun read. Maybe I won't wait another four years before I read the next one.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Comments

  1. I like the sound of the two elderly characters (thinking Odd Couple) but, not sure I am up for a new series or a complicated story LOL

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    1. Bryant and May are terrific characters. I like to leaven my reading with mysteries such as this now and then.

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  2. i really liked this series a lot, especially Bryant and May, but after the 13th or 14th episode it became too dark for me so i quit reading it. Fowler's invention and creativity were astounding, tho...

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    1. I think my husband may be their biggest fan. Whenever I hear him chuckling and laughing out loud while reading a book, I just nod and say to myself, "He's reading Bryant and May again!"

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  3. I'm not familiar with this series, and the plot you describe really sounds wild. But I'm a bit like you in that when an author pushes me even an inch beyond my ability to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the story, I'm pretty much done...and bored from that point onward.

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    1. I do like plots to be at least halfway plausible. This one took me about three-quarters of the way and then sort of lost me at the end.

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  4. Thank you bringing Christopher Fowler to my attention, I've not heard of the or the series before. I'll look into the PCU series.

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    1. Based on what I've read of your reviews, I think you might enjoy it.

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  5. This series sounds so good! But I had to reign myself in... I can't start anymore series. I'm in so many currently and I couldn't fit a 20 book series in my schedule right now, even though this sounds so good!

    I'll add the first one to my TBR, maybe one day.... :)

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    1. There was a time in my reading history when I read series almost exclusively. I've sort of gotten away from them in recent years, but I still like to dip my toe in the water occasionally.

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  6. While this grabs my interesting... I don't think I have the brain power for it right now lol.

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    1. It's a very twisty, turny plot, hard to keep up with. I sort of gave up after a while, but, on the whole, I still enjoyed it.

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  7. I do love a book that keeps me guessing and has all kinds of twists and turns. Though I do agree that once it gets too complicated - and for some books this means it becomes unbelievable - I kind of check out.

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    1. I like reading mysteries that I'm not able to solve until the end but this one was EXTREMELY far-fetched.

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