Friday, 17 November 2017

Book of the Month: London Falling by Paul Cornell

Paul Cornell was not a name I was familiar with before London Falling. Yet he is quite an established writer in the science fiction arena, working across a range of media, including comics and television.

London Falling is the first of a series of novels about a team of London police officers who have been granted an insight into the supernatural world around them and a wider occult conspiracy that wraps the capital in its folds.

Cornell is already well-known in the Doctor Who fraternity. I've never been a huge Doctor Who fan, other than during the Tom Baker era. Once Baker handed the baton on to Peter Davison I lost interest, as I felt Davison was a cad and a fool (an impression reinforced somewhat having met him in the flesh). Cornell wrote an early Doctor Who novel and the screen plays for a number of Doctor Who episodes as well as episodes of the BBC's Robin Hood series which aired in 2006-2007. Heck, he's even written for DC Comics and Marvel. His experience of writing screen plays for UK medical dramas has stood him in good stead for this exercise.

Cornell is a pretty prolific writer then, but he's got a good grasp of the dark underbelly of British criminal society (there's plenty of true crime on British TV and in the newspapers to draw from) and his portrayal of the politics and procedures that beset the Metropolitan Police comes across as extremely authentic.

In London Falling four police officers with very different personal backgrounds become involved in a terrifying urban fantasy as part of an undercover operation to capture a notorious London underworld figure. Two of them are actually working as undercover officers within the organisation in question, while another is coordinating the whole thing (Operation Goodfellow, if I remember correctly). When things all go horribly wrong, they end up as part of a spin off operation, Operation Toto, which starts looking into the more unexplained aspects of the case.

It is tough to go into more detail about the plot without spoiling it, but from the first chapter you are caught up in a gritty and fast-moving story that goes on to encompass ghosts, demons, witches, familiars, human sacrifice and magic. And Premiership football! And beer, lots of beer.

Those who have read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere will like London Falling, although I would say it is a little darker and shocking than Neverwhere, straying into the realm of horror more than once. Indeed, it feels a little more like Alan Moore's From Hell at times. If I was pinned down, I'd say it is almost as if Gaiman and Moore collaborated on something.

But this is also a book about London - the capital is the backdrop for a quest that takes the team into the depths of urbanomancy, the magic of places and of people (hence the echoes of From Hell). Players of Unknown Armies will be familiar with some of this, and I was regularly reminded of UA throughout the book.

I would heartily recommend the audio book if you can lay hands on it, as the narration by Damian Lynch is just fantastic. He gets the accents precisely right and really makes the characters jump off the page. It makes such a difference when a narrator is retained who can carry off different character accents.

London Falling is also the first in a series of novels collected under the moniker of the Shadow Police, and is followed by The Severed Streets, which came out in 2014. I will it.


  1. cheers Stuart. Audiobooks are the way to go! Sounds great. :)

  2. I recommend Cornell's two Marvel series Wisdom and Captain Britain and MI13; both focus on the British corner of the Marvel Universe and are full of good ideas. Wisdom is a bit more gritty and tighter in terms of storytelling; MI13 is a bit more sprawling and more Marvel-ey but Cornell does some great things with the characters.

    I also recommend his Doctor Who two parter "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood"; it's a dark and sad story set in the days before World War One.