Christopher Fowler, the author of such horror novels as Rune and Psychoville, has in recent years turned his hand to writing contemporary mysteries featuring two eccentric detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, of London's Peculiar Crimes Unit. The fourth and latest in the series is Ten Second Staircase.
How did you come up with your pair of detectives, Bryant and May?
I had written some strange crossover books, including a modern Faust, with unusual twists, and I thought I had learned the art of slow disclosure of information. I have always liked the old quote that there's nothing so satisfying as showing that something is impossible, and then proving how it can be done. Taking that as my starting-off point, I wrote the first Bryant and May, Full Dark House, and the second publisher who saw it asked me to develop a series.
What was the transition to writing mysteries like for you?
I finally feel like I'm hitting my stride with this series. It's very odd when you switch genres. I'd been doing everything from satire to supernatural thrillers, many books that did not neatly fit a particular niche, so switching to the mystery/crime genre where I'd had no previous experience was unnerving, because you don't know if you're going to tread over old ground. I felt very strongly that I wanted to try something that was fresh. It's taken me a while to get the confidence level up, and with Ten Second Staircase, which was the easiest one to write, I actually found that I had much more confidence in my characters.
How has the master of the impossible crime, John Dickson Carr, influenced you?
He's influenced me very much. His The Hollow Man [which appeared in the U.S. as The Three Coffins] is the ultimate locked-room mystery for me—the ultimate in sleight-of-hand.
Carr is not a household name today. Is writing a traditional fair-play mystery currently out of vogue?
I'm not sure. To my mind, it was such an obvious thing to do because there was a surfeit of hard-hitting, modern-day, torn-from-the-headlines, postmodern ironic crime novels, and I wanted to write something that I'd personally enjoy reading. It takes a while to find what you're most comfortable with. And, incidentally, I think writers secretly like rules, and one of the good things in writing fair-play is that there are rules that you need to fully understand before you can break any of them.