The Water Room

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this second Bryant and May mystery, Arthur Bryant and John May lead the Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) of the London Metropolitan Police, investigating cases deemed too unusual or politically sensitive for the regular Met. Both long past retirement age, Detectives Bryant and May have developed a close and successful partnership despite their very different personalities. May is a dapper ladies’ man who works by the book, Bryant a shabby eccentric as likely to consult with a witch as interview a witness.

When elderly shut-in Ruth Singh is found dead in the basement of her Balaklava Street home—her throat filled with river water—her brother asks Bryant to investigate. Meanwhile Kallie Owen, a young model struggling to build a new life with her boyfriend, buys the dead woman's now empty home. Unfortunately Kallie's boyfriend is often absent, leaving her alone in the run-down house which she finds increasingly eerie. A local tramp camps in the shrubbery behind the house, a neighbor's cat is killed by a large white crayfish on the lawn and Kallie hears rushing water in the basement room where Ruth Singh died.

Meanwhile Detective John May is using PCU resources to track a former lover's husband, an academic who is tracing London's labyrinth of underground rivers in search of an ancient treasure. Unless the Singh case or the treasure hunt results in evidence of a crime, the PCU is in danger of being shut down and reassigned to conventional police work.

For history buffs, Anglophiles, and readers who want to learn something while puzzling over a mystery, Christopher Fowler's The Water Room offers much arcane historical information about London's fourteen actual underground rivers. There is a surprising amount of explication regarding the detectives’ contrasting personalities; nonetheless the series stands out for its intelligent, witty writing and unusual characters.