London falling

What if there was another world of beings and power, coexisting with our own? We can’t see this world, but its inhabitants can see and affect us. What if suddenly, and very unexpectedly, you could see that world and began to see how these creatures interfered in the lives of those who are unaware? How would you react? Would you try to prevent a potential tragedy by attempting to thwart forces you don’t completely understand (possibly risking yourself in the process)? These are just some of the questions explored in London Falling by Paul Cornell.

Under the supervision of Detecitve Inspector Quill, undercover Detectives Costain and Sefton have been working the case for years against drug lord Rob Toshack. Toshack has subsumed and consumed almost every rival in London, building an empire of previously unknown proportions. Many of those rivals have simply vanished. While the assumption is that they are dead, no one, not even the undercover officers, know how Toshack was able to kill them off or who he is using to commit the crimes. But, on New Year’s Eve, Toshack begins to show signs of cracking. He is taken into custody and appears to be on the verge of a full confession. But before he does, several remarkable, indeed unbelievable, things occur and Quill, Costain, Sefton, along with Crime Analyst Ross, begin seeing incredible, impossible things. Things that can’t possibly be real. Because they now have The Sight and with it, they are now able to see the true evil that haunts the streets of London. An evil that Toshack seems to have been using in his domination of London’s underworld. Can London’s finest unravel the tangled web of evil accessed by a crime lord and bring an age-old serial killer to justice?

In London Falling, Paul Cornell, a writer previously known for comics and TV work (primarily for Doctor Who & Wolverine) combines a fascinating urban fantasy with a gritty police procedural. The result is a grim, but compelling first novel. The characters are well drawn and very distinct, with clear and recognizable voices and perspectives. Each has their own difficulties, and aptitudes, adjusting to The Sight. And their motivations and personalities develop nicely as the story progresses. In addition, London could really be seen as an additional character and member of the team in the story, as Cornell draws on the city’s history, past and recent, to provide an almost tangible sense of location and atmosphere. The crimes are both fantastic and yet frighteningly recognizable. It’s not a far walk from the crimes of recent newspapers to the ones committed in London Falling, which reinforces and lends credibility to the narrative.

This is a dark book and some readers may have difficulty with the subject matter. There is a series of serial killings and the crimes are disturbing and, at times,  graphic. But nothing in the story is gratuitous. For those interested in a dark fantasy tinged with a real sense of possibility, this is a fascinating and engrossing read.

The end of the book seems to indicate that London Falling is the beginning of a new series. While the book mostly stands on its own, the last pages hint at a continuation of the characters’ journey. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for the next case.