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Fowler, Christopher

Entry updated 6 April 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1953-2023) UK advertising copywriter, film marketer (through his firm The Creative Partnership) and author, mostly of horror tales and thrillers, also using the pseudonym L K Fox. He began to publish work of genre interest with the stories assembled in his first work of fiction, City Jitters (coll 1986): several of these tales are focused on London, where much of his work was set, including his first novel, Roofworld (1988), which initiates the loose London Quartet sequence of tales set in a displaced vision of the City. Though nothing explicitly fantastic occurs in the tale, the extremity of its venue and telling – a nocturnal war breaks out among Wainscot Society gangs who live on the city's roofs – creates a sense of Urban Fantasy at its edgiest [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below for this term as used here]. Further volumes in the sequence include Rune (1990), which is remotely derived from M R James's "Casting the Runes" (in More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, coll 1911), Red Bride (1993) and Darkest Day (1994; rev vt Seventy-Seven Clocks 2005); Rune and Darkest Day also serve as precursors to the extended Bryant and May sequence (see below). Other tales threaten to break through the envelope of the fantastic, but generally hold back from rupture, the better perhaps to depict the lives of men and women who seem to enjoy little hope of escape; exceptions include Spanky (1994), a very modern deal-with-the-devil fantasy, and Hell Train (2011), a lovingly melodramatic homage to a wide variety of Hammer horror film tropes whose various stories unfold aboard the hell-bound train.

A long series of detective thrillers, the Bryant and May sequence – the series so surtitled beginning with Full Dark House (2003) and ending with London Bridge Is Falling Down (2021) – occasionally relaxes into something like fantasy or sf, though guardedly. Frequently, through elatedly "implausible" storylines, the series as a whole can be thought of in terms of the lateral fantastic (see Fantastika), where concinnity becomes inherently nonmimetic, except in dreams. The titular protagonists had already featured in Rune, Darkest Day (recast for this series as Seventy-Seven Clocks) and Soho Black (1998), a supernatural fiction featuring a character who, convinced by a powerful Drug that he has died, suddenly dominates the Soho film scene. Despite their great age, Arthur Bryant and John May remain central to the Peculiar Crimes Unit connected variously to the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, at various times located above Mornington Crescent tube station in Hampstead Road and in the Caledonian Road in nether Islington; always in north London. Beginning with Full Dark House, which is set in 2003 and in the Blitz (see World War Two) where the duo first meet, Bryant and May engage in cases over the decades that sometimes take them into strange regions Underground, into encounters with soi-disant Secret Masters, local Mythology and psychogeography, and variously call upon them to cope with a London whose fluvial past constantly interpenetrates the present; individual plots, some of them unpacking into Commedia dell'Arte extravagances, seem generally shaped to elucidate aspects of the world City rather than the reverse. In Seventy-Seven Clocks, perhaps the most science-fictional of these cases, the "mastermind" behind a string of bizarre murders proves to be a Steampunkish clockwork calculating engine or Automaton created in Victorian times to identify commercial threats to a family business, triggering their automatic elimination by hired assassins; at the time of the narrative action in 1973, as recollected by Bryant three decades later, this mechanism is badly out of order and has begun to target the large family itself. The back-story of The Invisible Code (2012) features a kind of boutique Pandemic: a manufactured virus mutated from avian flu that triggers suicidal impulses in dark-skinned victims (ie those with high amounts of melanin their skin) (see Race in SF); Bryant's apparent decline into dementia in Bryant & May: Strange Tide (2016) presents in the form of Timeslips into London's past, whether hallucinatory or literal never made quite clear, from which visions of "secret synchronicities" at the heart of the "true" story of London he characteristically derives illumination.

Very little of what Fowler wrote can be straightforwardly understood as sf, except perhaps The Sand Men (2015), a crime tale set in a cruel Near Future Dubai, which much resembles the present-day country in the way that late J G Ballard novels resemble the worlds they subtly transform into alien scapes, and can be read transferring upwards to an even harsher world some of the themes embedded in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988) by Hilary Mantel. In everything Fowler published, whether or not ostensibly designed to convey alarums about the contemporary world as a whole, a wicked and acute intelligence infiltrates warningly. [JC/DRL]

Christopher Robert Fowler

born London: 26 March 1953

died London: 2 March 2023



London Quartet

  • Roofworld (London: Century/Legend, 1988) [London Quartet: hb/Ali Bey]
  • Rune (London: Century, 1990) [London Quartet: see also Bryant and May below: hb/nonpictorial: pb/Graham Humphreys]
  • Red Bride (London: Little, Brown, 1992) [London Quartet: pb/Mark Taylor]
  • Darkest Day (London: Little, Brown, 1993) [see Seventy-Seven Clocks below under Bryant and May: London Quartet: hb/Mark Taylor]

Bryant and May

individual titles

  • Spanky (London: Warner Books, 1994) [pb/photographic]
  • Psychoville (London: Warner Books, 1995) [pb/Jay Eff]
  • Disturbia (London: Warner Books, 1996) [pb/Jay Eff]
  • Calabash (London: Warner Books, 2000) [pb/]
  • The Curse of Snakes (London: Andersen Press, 2010) [pb/]
  • Hell Train (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Solaris, 2011) [pb/Graham Humphreys]
  • Nyctophobia (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Solaris, 2014) [pb/Pye Parr]
  • The Sand Men (Oxford, Oxfordshire: Solaris, 2015) [pb/Pye Parr]


nonfiction (selected)


previous versions of this entry

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