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Another fine mess

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London Falling - Paul Cornell Full review at Bookgasm -- http://www.bookgasm.com/reviews/fantasy/london-falling:


Paul Cornell has described his new novel as “BUFFY meets THE BILL,” capturing in bang-up fashion its collision of horror tropes and copper attitude.

LONDON FALLING features a special investigative team thrown together by the unexplainable (and bloody) death of a suspect in custody. And, as with any number of Joss Whedon’s ragtag teams, there are traumatic backstories and lots of smart-arsed dialogue, a genuine sentiment flavored by serious narrative consequences, and the whiplash thrills of big action set-pieces and constant screwball chatter.


But the mash-up pitch does Cornell a disservice, too. It may make his effort seem derivative, an easy parlor trick rather than the enthusiastic reinvention you’ll find here. (Cornell has roots with DOCTOR WHO and DC comics, too, experiences which clearly shape — but don’t constraiN — what he accomplishes here.) The novel will delight fans of dark fantasy and gritty crime stories, and countless other sorts of readers, as well. LONDON FALLING is exhilarating and sophisticated entertainment — an excellent stand-alone adventure which primes the pump for future explorations.

The novel opens at a run. We’re thrown right into a pacy, intense depiction of the tail-end of an undercover operation which sets in motion some deeper mysteries while running the cast out on stage for introductions. DI Quill barks over the radio, tracking the trap clamping down on crime lord Rob Toshack; deep-cover officers Costain and Sefton circle one another suspiciously; investigator Ross follows by radio as her critical analysis comes a cropper. You could (will) easily fall right in to the gritty crime story, forgetting that things are about to turn slant.

The team (and plot) quickly shift focus to a mysterious elderly woman, Mora Losley — a season ticketholder for West Ham, and something much more. The plot ticks along in procedural mode, as these detectives faced with things that don’t make sense use good copper instincts to build a case; Cornell skillfully uses the investigation to do some sophisticated history- and world-building, teasing out an alternate London that recalled The Clash’s warnings (the apocalyptic thump of “London calling / To the underworld”) as well as earlier incarnations of a shadow city in Neil Gaiman or China Miéville.

This dense weave of world-building is smartly subsumed in narrative momentum, an escalating series of set-pieces (a riveting raid on a market, a race to find hostages before a deadline passes). The novel’s only weakness is the reliance on some facile emotional beats for character development, although the team members are sketched with real skill — defining a cast readers will care deeply about. And there is some slight tendency, as the novel ends, to slip into conventional bathos (not as effectively, smart-assedly deconstructed as in the Whedonverse).

But, damn, it’s an enjoyable read. Highly recommended.