London Falling by Paul Cornell

London Falling

a review by Nalini Haynes

Named after a song and a threat to the city, London Falling is the beginning of a dark urban fantasy series.

Costain is a black undercover police officer who has been undercover for so long – four years – that he’s losing track of who he really is. He’s developed paranoia: is Sefton, the other undercover copper on this case out to get him?

Quill, their boss, is threatening Costain with an investigation into Costain himself. Quill has discovered an internal existential angst that impacts upon his married life and his career.

Sefton, a gay black copper (ticking all the diversity boxes for the Metro), feels that Costain is bullying him; Sefton believes this is partly about Sefton’s sexuality and partly to cover Costain’s corruption.

Ross, the niece of the crime boss under investigation, has become an intelligence analyst for the London police force in the hope of avenging her father’s death.

Football plays a significant part of this story; consider this a much darker SHADOW version of Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals. It’s also the shadow version of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series.

(See the Archetypal reference there?)

At the outset London Falling reads like a crime novel but then we all – the reader with the four previously mentioned characters – go down the rabbit hole together, discovering the spiritual world of London while in a race to save lives.

The beauty of this novel is it can be read as deeply or superficially as you wish. If you’re into dark fantasy – horror – you can read this for the story alone. London Falling isn’t a slasher, a ‘pick off the central characters one by one’ or a Poltergeist horror, it’s a carefully crafted story using history as mythology and archetypal mythology with social comment.

Although I thought the comments about Twitter were extraneous, the rest of the social comment was perceptive, adding another layer to the story. The ‘thinky stuff’ is not pushed at the reader; London Falling is a story that can be read as deeply as you wish.

Although there are a few laugh-out-loud moments relieving the tension in London Falling, laughter is inspired by the occasional joke or surprising twist. London Falling is NOT a comedy.

And character development? I love the characters even when I don’t like them. They grow, their fears and weaknesses are challenged, they… [deleted because SPOILERS]

Finally, this is a standalone story although it’s obviously the beginning of a series, with a story arc unfolding. I’m getting a bit worn down by all the trilogies where I’m left hanging; a series that provides short-term gratification while leaving me wanting more is just what the reviewer ordered.

The world-building is detailed; the plot builds the tension to the point of needing to relax after reading; the characters are deep, changing as they rise to their challenges. Even when I didn’t like the coppers I didn’t look forward to their demise [shifty eyes]; this is a sign of finely balanced dynamics. I highly recommend London Falling.

Note: London Falling is based on a TV series pitch from years ago; Stephen Moffat’s name has been mentioned in conjunction with this pitch that has not made it to our screen. Get out the torches and pitchforks! WANT!