(2013) Paul Cornell, Tor, £7.99, pbk, 399pp, ISBN 980-0-330-52809-2
When I heard that Paul Cornell had written an urban fantasy novel I got quite excited. He is a Doctor Who writer, for one thing (he even got a Hugo award nomination for one episode), and has worked extensively in comics, writing for both Marvel and DC. And I have to say that he does not disappoint: London Falling is really rather good.
If you have read China Mieville's The Kraken or Neil Gaimanís Neverwhere you will be familiar with the setup. Contemporary London has layers and some of them are unseen, at least to normal human eyes. There are witches and shadowy Lords, unexplained phenomena and talking, severed heads on banisters. London Falling is a mash-up of crime fiction and the supernatural, with a dollop of football thrown in. And, surprisingly, it seems to work!
The novel opens with two undercover cops, Costain and Sefton, following crime boss Rob Toshack on his last day of liberty. But once they pull him in, things get weird. Toshack dies in custody inexplicably, Costain and Sefton's boss, Quill, heads up the police team following up, and these three, together with an analyst, Ross, form an investigating team which goes serial killer hunting, looking for the four hundred year old witch Mora Losley, who boils children to gain the power to kill anyone who scores three goals against her beloved West Ham United. Along the way, the police team gains the 'sight' which gives them a glimpse into the hidden London Mora Losley inhabits, full of concealed doors, embittered ghosts and secret powers.
Quill is not quite Gene Hunt, but there are certainly elements of that. Elements, too, of Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, and although London Falling takes itself slightly more seriously than that it is not a great leap to draw parallels. I liked him. Slightly bumbling, completely out of his depth, enormous comic potential. Sefton, too, had potential, partially realised as the honest black cop who nobody seemed to notice was gay. Ross, the niece of the villain, Toshack, with a strong desire for revenge was also appealing. I was not so keen on Costain, though, who seemed more villain than hero with his coke habit and penchant for violence.
Despite its weirdness and the macabre crimes at its core this is a witty book, full of sharp observation and humour. Its London setting gives it a solid grounding, though its very specific city references might be off-putting to anyone from out of town.
Drawbacks? Well the four heroes could have been more strongly developed and likeable and I had have preferred to follow one voice (preferably Ross, the most sympathetic of the bunch). And the opening gave no clues to the direction the book was going to take, all Lock Stock and gritty London gangster mouthiness, which meant it took (me) a couple of chapters to get properly grounded in the narrative. Overall, though, this is likeable and engaging and Cornell has demonstrated he is as good at novels as he is at writing comics and the good Doctor. For once, I am pleased there will probably be follow up novels. Recommended.
See also Ian's take on London Falling.
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