‘London Falling’ is like a cross between ‘The Bill’ and ‘Torchwood’ where God and the Devil are almost literally fighting for London and its denizens’ immortal souls. There is also football.
It’s both a police procedural is the style of popular TV shows like ‘The Bill’ and a horror story that is reminiscent of classic, old school Hammer Horror. There’s no touchy-feely New Age Wicca in this novel, no sweet little witches and wizards who go to a posh private school. In this story, magic is all about the eville and the sacrificing and witches are twisted crones who work for the devil.
In ‘London Falling’ there are all the elements you would expect in a modern, London-centric urban occult story and it’s clear that the author Paul Cornell has done a lot of very detailed research into actual police procedure which is really informative.
Cornell draws on the ideas of sacred geometry long associated with certain areas of the capital to form the basis of his version of magical, otherworldly London. In much the same way that Bezel and Ul Qoman in Mieville’s mystical police procedural, ‘The City & The City’ co-exist, so do all the many ages of London: ghosts of people, places and things exist layered upon each other. Although both ‘The City & The City’ and ‘London Falling’ are police procedurals with magic, Mieville and Cornell’s books are very different in style and tone and character. In ‘London Falling’, only people with the Sight can see into the magical other London and there is a price to pay for that ‘gift’.
The four protagonists gain the Sight as they hunt the hideous old witch, Mora Losley through London. They are led by the hard-bitten Jimmy Quill, the kind of copper who plays by the rules. Working for him is the bad-boy, undercover cop gone native, Costain, and the younger more idealistic Sefton, who like Costain is black, but he is also gay and struggling with his identity. They are ably assisted by the bright, but troubled intelligence analyst Ross. She’s quite the brains of the outfit, but she has a dark secret and a score of her own to settle.
The book has several highpoints and reveals, some of which are a surprise, not least because they come from point of view characters who seem to suffer from bouts of selective amnesia until the right point in the story. This didn’t really work for me as a storytelling device. I think if you’re in a character’s head you should know what they’re thinking, but that’s purely a taste thing. There’s so much going on that I don’t think most people will be bothered by this.
The story is very clearly described, particularly during the action scenes. It almost feels like you’re watching a film which is a testament to Cornell’s skill. It has horrific elements but, because of Cornell’s writing style, I felt insulated from the grisliness which was great as I’m a bit squeamish! If you like cop dramas and shows like ‘Torchwood’, you’ll love this book and given the set-up at the end, there’s plenty more where this came from.
KT Davies (@KTScribbles)
(pub: TOR. 400 page enlarged paperback Price: £12.99 ISBN: 978-0-230-76321-0)