Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Water Room" by Christopher Fowler


The Bryant and May mysteries seem to belong to the variety that is less puzzle and more blind exploration. One does not pick one’s way through a labyrinth of clues and red herrings, but is more precisely swept along in the flow of the plot. In that regard, they are a less satisfying read than the classic whodunit. However, there is an appeal to be found here. The stories always seem to explore the aspect of reality that lies just outside of our perceptions. There is, for a time anyway, the excitement that one feels when the solution to the problem may lie outside of the natural reality.

Bryant is the half of the pair open to “sideways” thinking. He is the postmodern half of the stories. Whereas May proceeds logically and collects all the facts, Bryant intuits and looks to non-traditional sources of information. This aspect of the stories supplies the reader with the extra element of excitement in these mysteries—takes it beyond mere procedural—but also raises frustrations for someone wanting a modicum of logic.

The side of these stories that is open to the supernatural is the most frustratingly inconsistent sort. Bryant is open to all sources of information: pagan, esoteric, mystical and occult; yet he rules Christian sources out from the start. The underlying current one detects here is the typical postmodern distrust of establishment. Yet one must ask: how is Christianity any less reliable a perspective? Sure, the religious traditions and the power wielding institutions that have used Christianity to control people and politics were and are wrong. (They miss the point of Biblical Christianity.) But aren’t other “religious” and even occult sources just as controlling in their own context?

Of course, in the end, these stories are mysteries and have a logical explanation, so the point is moot. Bryant’s methodologies are just a way of feeding his intuitive thinking. These are ultimately not supernatural thrillers despite the feeling along the way.

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