Paul Cornell: ‘London Falling’ book review

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Paul Cornell is a very good writer indeed – a fact that’s emphasised by his being able to lift his quill across genres and mediums with vexing ease and perpetually entertaining results.

Cornell is best known to some as a writer of Doctor Who novels and audioplays, better known to others as a writer for more primetime TV shows than you can shake your remote at, and recognised among comic book fans for writing one of the best runs on DC’s Action Comics for some time.

Clearly not getting enough of the occult and arcane in writing DC’s excellent series Demon Knights, Cornell has planted his pen in the burgeoning urban fantasy genre with his novel London Falling, a tale best described as mobsters, magic, and miserable cops.

When gang boss Rob Toshack is killed in supernatural (and very bloody) circumstances while in police custody, DI James Quill and his corps of coppers commence an investigation that leads them by the nose into the occult underbelly of the Capital and to their own magic ability. It sounds like pure fantasy but this is really street-level supernatural; a gritty detective story coiled around a supernatural crime. This is British police work, soaked with rozzers’ slang and one cup too many of black coffee. The authenticity of the police process contrasts well against the grim fantastical elements at play.

Given his background as a TV writer it’s unsurprising that Cornell’s prose is filmic in its approach; his words engendering the feel that you’re staring at a screen rather than at a page. Should London Falling ever be adapted for TV (surely a possibility) its translation to the screen would be effortless. It’s a style that at first leaves you feeling like you’re looking at characters rather than living through them, but it makes for easy total immersion into a world full of chilly detail.

The London created here is a dark gothic labyrinth; bleeding an atmosphere of the sinister through every crack in the concrete. From suburban estates to football stadiums to the Houses of Parliament, the normally urban mundane has a pall of the uncanny and secretive cast over it. It’s an excellent construction for the story to play out in.

Amid the steely dialogue and the many neat turns of phrase, such as ‘another six pints of therapy’, there’s the odd sentence that feels clunky enough to interrupt the story’s otherwise seamless flow. ‘He fired it in the air and kept firing… …as if he was waving a flag that fired bullets’ is an ugly line, but fortunately rare and soon forgotten.

This is another accomplished piece of work from Paul Cornell’s ever bubbling mind-cauldron. Fans of police drama or those familiar with Ben Aaranovitch’s Rivers of London will find themselves in their element, and if you’re a Being Human viewer you’ll appreciate the sense of urban unease (and the gore, there’s plenty of gore) slithering throughout. Once the unseemly perkiness of Christmas is over you’ll find no better way to complement the grim winter nights than London Falling.

Published on Thursday 6 December 2012 by Tor.

> Buy the book on Amazon.