By Brian Clegg
I was so impressed with Paul Cornell's London Falling, that I've had to buy and read the sequel, The Severed Streets within days – and it doesn't disappoint.
In the first book, a motley crew of three police officers and an analyst discover the dark magic lying beneath London. This second 'Shadow Police' title (I'm not sure about that series name) takes them deeper into the weirdness that lies out of sight to most, as a series of rich men are slaughtered horribly with a razor. All this takes place alongside ant-capitalism riots and a police strike, leaving London a place that's best avoided.
In reviewing London Falling, I said:
imagine a combination of a modern version of The Devil Rides Out, a dark police procedural and a sprinkling of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and you might come close
Here were discover why that last comparison was particularly apt (I had no idea, honestly) – because Neil Gaiman is a character in this book and the suggestion is that the book version of Neverwhere was inspired by his experiences.
I ought to stress that this book is nothing like Neverwhere – it's much more gritty, without the comedy (though Cornell can't resist a Sweeney joke at one point), and tries to establish what a set of unconventional coppers would do faced with the discovery of an occult world.
There's some good character progression here from the first book. Three of the four main characters have experiences that enable us to see far more of their characters, while a fifth, mysterious character on their side is given a little more exposure. The situation the officers find themselves in is dire – it's difficult to see how they are going to survive this one and it is as much of a page turner as its predecessor.
I liked The Severed Streets very much, though I don't think it's quite as good as the original. This is because some of the subplots don't work quite as well, because the introduction of a real person like Gaiman feels wrong, and because the police inspector's experience in the second half sits uncomfortably with the style of the rest, shocking though it is. Nevertheless, this book cements Cornell as the UK's new master of this kind of urban fantasy… and I've already ordered volume 3.
Now Appearing is the blog of science writer Brian Clegg (www.brianclegg.net), author of Inflight Science, Before the Big Bang and The God Effect.