Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Review: The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

We deal with a lot of nonfiction material on Infrastructure Watch. It is nice to find books that deal with infrastructure in imaginative ways through fiction, even if they are a little far-fetched. We hope that by bringing attention to approachable fiction we might also increase awareness of the amazing infrastructure all around us.

Fowler, Christopher. The Water Room. 2004. New York: Bantam, 2008.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit handles cases that, because of political sensitivity, unlikelihood of success or just weirdness, have little appeal to the Metropolitan Police. The Water Room is part of a series of books about the PCU, so there is a lot of water under the bridge by the time it starts.

It is the water under London that plays a key role in the detective story, which is what attracted me to the book. A series of murders on a seemingly ordinary street attracts the attention of the PCU, which discovers a connection to the flooding Fleet, one of London’s several long buried rivers, the myths connected to it and the art it has inspired.

Toward the end of the book, the detectives that lead the PCU discuss how they became interested in crime. One of them mentions reading Agatha Christie and how complicated her stories were, with solutions depending on particulars, and occurring in a world of old-fashioned high society. The character thought real crimes were mostly by more common people for more common reasons and would be more solvable.

This reference to Christie did not make me think of the contrast between her books and Fowler’s, but the many points of comparison. The Water Room is very much in the mode of a cozy English mystery, except the setting is mostly lower middle-class and Hercule Poirot would never resort to entering a sewer.

I enjoy these kinds of stories, though, and Fowler does a good job of telling an interesting and original tale, even if it does fit a type. There are enough clues throughout the book, one very telling, for a reader guess the culprit and a multitude of red herring. There are secrets held to the last chapters, particularly related to motivation, but this is also typical of this kind of story and handled well by Fowler.

Though part of a series, one needn’t read the previous books to enjoy this one. There are enough allusions to the earlier books to explain the relationships between the recurring characters, but they don’t get in the way of the present adventure.

If your interested in this book, you might also be interested in The Great Stink by Clare Clark.

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