Thursday, January 16, 2014

Supernatural Crime Solving in London

I’m in the midst of plowing through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, so you’d think I might have had my fill of supernatural detective stories. Well, you’d be wrong. I took a slight detour to read London Falling, the first book in a planned series of urban fantasy novels by the British author Paul Cornell.

Cornell that polymathic sort of writers who seems to do well at all the things to which he turns his hand. From comics to short stories to multiple episodes of Dr. Who, Cornell has already shown a broad creative palate. Wading into the already crowded waters of urban fantasy is a rather bold move, but Cornell pulls it off with his usual elegance. He creates an atmosphere so dark you’ll want to read this book in a crowded public place, and his story is carried along by a cast of characters that are complex, deep, and deeply

When a long-running investigation into a London crime boss goes wrong, four metropolitan police officers must salvage the case (and their careers) by figuring out how he was able to maintain his empire. When the answer turns out to be black magic, the team begins an epic search through the history of London and the dark thaumaturgical world surrounding it.

The narrative has some commonly used narrative themes: a mismatched group, some of whom actively dislike each other, forced together by circumstance to combat a problem to only their peculiar set of skills is suited. Cornell makes this seem fresh, which is an accomplishment in itself, and successfully draws that process of mutual discovery into the narrative in ways that drive it forward, sometimes with breathtaking speed. What results is something like a series of Prime Suspect as told by the author of the Necronomicon.

Cornell’s book is an excellent addition to the genre, but it is not for either the faint of heart or the squeamish. This is not one of those books where the characters are constantly swimming up rivers of gore, but there are a fair number of very grim scenes. Still, overall this is a fascinating tale expertly told, and with the next book in the series due out in May, fans of this story will have something exciting to which to look forward.

~John F.

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