No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2013/02: London Falling -- Paul Cornell

... not being able to control things is why people started doing stuff like Losley does, way back when. That’s why it’s town stuff. Everyone going back and forth in the city, doing deals, getting one up on each other, when maybe you were used to how it was in the country, just working your land and stuff, same thing happening every year ... The city makes you want it now, makes you want it easier. But the bureaucracy of the city also grinds against that, makes you look for a way to get round it.’ [location 3856]

Whoever described this as 'Buffy meets the Sweeney' wasn't far off the mark. Yes, it's London coppers versus the forces of darkness -- but the doom and gloom is leavened with humour, rounded characters and a profound appreciation of London-as-phenomenon.

Everything's normal to start with. (Possibly for a little too long: would I have kept reading if I hadn't known there were Weird Thingies ahead? Though I can't actually imagine a world in which I remained ignorant of this novel, what with Twitter and word-of-mouth.) But then DI Quill's prime suspect Toshack, hauled in for drug-related crimes, dies in a suspicious and inexplicable fashion; and Quill ends up with a rag-tag team, and a horrifying (and literal) new insight into the underpinnings of Toshack's criminal empire.

Suddenly there are ghosts amid the crowds, ghosts following Quill's colleagues; there are mysterious spirals of earth appearing in apparently-random locations; there are screaming plague-pits, and a fortune-teller whose divinatory method of choice is the London A-Z. Also, a statistically-improbable incidence of death amongst football players who score hat-tricks against West Ham. And the Sekrit Historie of Anne Boleyn. And a talking cat which, in my head at least, has the Received Pronunciation of early BBC broadcasts.

There are some very cool ideas in this novel, and some fascinating characters (a category into which I think London itself might fall). Cornell manages to write about a team that includes a self-confessed 'shit', a woman and a gay man without drawing from central casting's handy basket o' stereotypes. He also manages an oddly sympathetic villain. With those factors in the novel's favour, I can easily forgive the occasional clunkiness (one does not 'run into close quarters').

I am really looking forward to the next book in this series.
If this is the Old Bill versus Old Nick, we’ll have him too, sunshine. [location 6097]

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