Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Seventy Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler


What we have here is the first case (but not the first book) involving the Peculiar Crimes Unit detectives Bryant and May. Their reputation is one of two very different personalities that complement each other in such a way as to solve some very hard puzzles while entertaining the reader with the interaction. At least in this case that is not what we have delivered. However, it is still an appealing read due to the exotic and shocking nature of the crimes, and the adventure that we are taken on—even when the case is a little far-fetched and the sleuths seem to stumble on rather than solve the solution.

The Seventy-Seven Clocks is a conspiracy that takes place in the early seventies, but feels like it should be happening in the height of the Victorian Era. In fact, the mystery involves events that were set in motion during that time, so we have Indian assassins, poisonous snakes, exploding gentlemen, raving madwomen, and other grizzly ways of killing people.

Along the way an interesting undercurrent is the commentary on religion, and especially the racist, imperial religion that was in power during the Victorian times. It is a valid criticism but unfortunately the author falls into the faulty argument that one bad religious expression makes all faith wrong and even bad. In typical European fashion, there is a distinction here between religion and the supernatural. Our characters are perfectly happy to accept the existence of spiritual aspects to life; it is just Christianity that receives the brunt of the negative opinion. Why is it that European Postmodernism is open to reality beyond that which is known but quick to dismiss all Christianity based on a troubled past?

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