It’s that time of year again when I try to catch up on the outstanding book reviews so I can wrap up and launch the current year’s Book Blog Project. Sadly I am a few behind.
London Falling is by Paul Cornell. I heard it about it from his blog which I follow. Cornell is a writer who has had success in several fields including comic books and novels but it’s as a TV writer that I first came across him. Specifically he’s the writer of my favourite Dr Who two-parter Human Nature/Family of Blood – adapted from his own Dr Who novel.
I’d always meant to read one of his novels and when I heard him say that this was coming out and that he felt it captured his voice better than his previous ones I thought why not? Also I found the premise intriguing – more on that in a second.
London Falling begins as a big drug bust is about to take place. It’s an operation that’s been years in the planning and involves two undercover officers. The bust is happening more because they’re running out of money than because the timing’s just right, nevertheless they manage to arrest a local gang boss and several of his “soldiers”. Unfortunately this coup is short-lived as he’s killed whilst in police custody. In fact whilst he’s being interviewed and in full view of CCTV. Nevertheless it’s not clear who, what or how the murder took place.
Shortly after this a small unit is formed to investigate this. It turns out to have been a supernatural killing and after visiting a related crime scene the team acquire ‘The Sight’ which is the ability to see… well what exactly it is they can see is explored in the rest of the novel, but for now I’ll just say that it adds an extra dimension to things.
I loved this book. However I do have to say that it took me a while to get into it. The first two or three chapters have almost no supernatural element at all and I suppose since that’s why I had picked up the book I was waiting for that to appear. Once it did however we were off to the races. In the past I’ve scored books highly because they had a page-turning quality but they haven’t always stayed with me once I’ve finished them. London Falling was not like that. It was page-turning because I really wanted to know what happened but when I found out what happened I was usually more intrigued and more concerned about the characters.
Cornell has said that one of the things he wanted to do was show how real Police officers would handle the supernatural, and what it would be like if they applied the same set of techniques to these other-worldly experiences as they do to every day investigations. I think that’s where the book sets itself apart. It’s also why I think the first section of the book is what it is – we need to establish what ‘ordinary’ policing is like to some extent.
This book reminded me of a couple of other authors when I was reading it. First Michael Marshall Smith – specifically Only Forward – it has a similar sense of a dream/spirit world that lies alongside the everyday world. Secondly it reminded me of the better Ankh-Morpork set Discworld books. It has that same sense of a city being an intricate working mechanism and of the author being fascinated with how it all fits together. So yes, in the words of the old cliche, London really is a character in this book.
Having said that, this book reminded me of those others but is totally unlike them in style or tone. It is its own book and that’s to its credit. It is a fairly intense book and the crimes committed are pretty gruesome stuff. But then it’s definitely no worse than some of your serial killer thrillers. There is a thread of wry dark humour but it’s not a light read, it is a rewarding one though.
9/10 – A police procedural with added supernatural menace.
(p.s. I’ve avoided the phrase ‘urban fantasy’ because despite the fact that that’s what it is on a plain meaning level, and despite the fact that Cornell is happy with that classification, I think it summons up ideas of romances with Vampires or Werewolves, neither of which are in evidence here.)