Spent the last hour or so of my shift this morning writing/researching/tweaking a paragraph or two in between my chores for this review. This afternoon, I read what I’d labored over and realized the entire premise is bunk, and needed be round-filed promptly (despite really liking everything I’d written). Lesson for the day: don’t read, just post.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is not your typical Urban Fantasy. Nor is this your typical Police Procedural. Lastly, this is not your typical UF/Procedural mash-up (see: Diana Rowland‘s Kara Gillian series, or Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant series). Instead, this is the wow-inducing freak show of a lovechild of Christopher Fowler‘s Bryant & May Peculiar Crimes Unit procedural and Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor UF books.
These series share a certain subdued wit, a cynicism tinged with hope, and a certain amount of a-typical characters for their respective genres. But more importantly for this comparison, they share a richness, appreciation for, and dependence upon London’s geography, culture and history (particularly the bits that few people know about, which are rife for use/manipulation in fiction). If that doesn’t sum up Cornell’s work, I’ll eat a Union Jack emblazoned hat.
Oh, also, the more I read of Bryant & May, the less I understand the London Police Force’s organization and slang (which any number of British TV police shows and other novels convince me I’m pretty familiar with). Cornell outdoes Fowler on that score. Sure, there’s a glossary at the end of this book, but that’s not advertised anywhere, and I didn’t realize it until it was too late. But sussing all that out is part of the charm of these books — I appreciate how little they feel compelled to hold the audience’s hand a little more than I’m frustrated at the extra work.
Enough preamble. What starts off as the ill-advised attempt to wrap up a major undercover operation (based more on economics than police work) turns into a child serial killer case that ends up captivating and frightening the residents of London while a band of four policemen (one of which is technically a civilian aide — or maybe she’s a different type of officer, but I don’t think so, see previous paragraph) track the killer that has the rest of the force completely befuddled. These four spend as much time battling their own demons — within and without, metaphorical and otherwise — as they do working the cases. Oh, and you can forget about any real esprit de corps amongst these four, just to complicate matters further.
The major reason for the befuddlement of the rest of the force is that the killer is using all sorts of magic — in truly horrific ways, for even more horrific reasons, and only our four heroes (for lack of a better word) can see that. These four didn’t start the novel being able to see magic, and spend a good deal of time trying to figure out what’s going on with their eyes and ears now — and not in a fun montage-y way the way they do in Spider-Man movies. Theirs is a real baptism by fire, learning as they work desperately to save children and footballers both from being the killer’s next victims.
Yes, I said children and footballers. Just roll with it.
In the wrong hands, this could be the makings of a mess. Cornell doesn’t play any of this for laughs, or lighter moments — there is practically no joy to be found in this grim novel of a grimmer world of miserable people. But his are the right hands, and Cornell handles all these bits and pieces like a seasoned pro and deftly shapes them in to a kiester-kicking read.