London Falling by Paul Cornell

London FallingA long undercover investigation into a major criminal has come to an end. But as Detective Inspector James Quill is interrogating a suspect, that suspect basically explodes – no explosive, just lots of blood and other innards. Nothing about the death makes sense until a strange occurrence leaves Quill and his team – analyst Lisa Ross and undercover policemen Costain and Sefton – with the Sight – the ability to see all manner of hidden things.

When the culprit reveals themselves, it becomes rapidly clear that Quill is out of his depth. The killer has been around for centuries – how can the four of them possibly capture a supernatural force that can seemingly bend time, space and even memories?

But Puzzle Doctor, I hear you cry, that seems an rather non-mystery book for you to be reviewing. Did someone bash you on the head? Have you finally decided to try something from another genre? Allow me to explain…

Following on from Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, Amazon thought I might like this book. I’m not sure if their algorithm suggested it because a) it’s another supernatural police book or b) like Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell has written for Doctor Who both on television (Father’s Day and one of my favourites, Human Nature/The Family of Blood). Probably both, I expect.

But also, despite the wibbly-wobbly-ghosty-witchiness of the whole thing, Quill and his team are members of the police force. And they act like it. Yes, there isn’t a whiff of whodunit about it, although there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, but this is a police procedural novel. The police just happen to have the Sight and the villain is over four hundred years old…

The author takes time to give us a set of fully rounded characters. Although Quill is nominally the lead, each of the characters gets an equal amount of page time, from the determined Lisa Ross, hiding a secret that is one of the first major twists of the narrative, Costain, distinctly unlikeable at first but who takes an interesting path, and Sefton, who begins to use the Sight constructively to finally make his mark on the world. And the villain is simply horrible…

Cornell has clearly taken his time to think carefully about the framework and rules for the world that he has created. Rivers of London is billed in some reviews as Harry Potter joins the police. That’s a long way from what the book is about, but I can see where they are coming from. This, on the other hand, simply cannot be summed up in a pithy phrase. It’s a very intelligent novel – I’m sure some people would class some of the ideas as closer to science fiction than to anything else – but while the reader will find themselves having to think about some parts carefully, this never stops the plot moving forwards.

As a thriller, it works exceptionally well. There is never an indulgent pause – everything keeps the plot moving forwards, and as I mentioned, there are a number of twists, including one real kick in the stomach. If you’ve read the book, you know the bit that I mean.

If you liked Rivers of London, then take a step up and try this one. The former book was very good – this is simply magnificent. Highly Recommended.

Oh, and isn’t that a cracking title? Just saying…

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15 comments

  1. And of course Ben provides the cover blurb! This sounds great Steve, thanks – I’ve actually not read any of Cornell’s novels and like you thought Human Nature/The Family of Blood one of the highlights of the Tennant era – shall have to get this.

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  2. My husband has this book so I will be trying it someday. Not sure when I will fit it in. It is encouraging that you enjoyed the book. I was not sure about the supernatural elements.

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    • I’m sure a lot of my readers will be put off by the supernatural bits but the fact that the police still act like police in the face of it all is what sold it to me. Do let me know if you try it.

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  3. An exploding suspect without explosive ! The ability to see hidden things ! A talking cat ! (The last is not mentioned by you, but I read it in another review.)
    Well, I note that more strange things are in store for us like cats being the main characters in a book !

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