“You hear stories like that all your life and think: cool, a ghost bus. But now we have to look at this stuff analytically... a ghost bus?! The “ghost” of a motor vehicle?”
In London, Detective Inspector Quill is about to bring down drug lord Rob Toshack, the culmination of four years of painstaking work. Toshack is arrested and taken into custody and when he is about to confess to all of his crimes, the unthinkable happens: He dies. It is a bloody, sudden death that puzzles the detectives and doctors working the case. There is something really weird happening here—something that might explain how Toshack was able to always be ahead of the law.
Co-opting the help of undercover cops Costan and Sefton and of intelligence analyst Ross, Quill sets out to investigate the whys and hows of Toshack’s death. Soon enough, the team come across something that alters the way they perceive the world and they discover that London has a hidden, sinister side. Worst of all, there is a supernatural serial killer on the loose, capable of altering memories and who is kidnapping and boiling children alive.
They have only but one choice: to go after her. Operation Toto—they are so not in Kansas anymore—is underway and they are armed only with their regular equipment and tactics. What can possibly go wrong?
A lot, as it turns out.
London Falling is an engaging combination of Urban Fantasy and Horror, featuring a plot that is as close to a crime procedural as it can be. Comparisons to Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series are inevitable to any fans of British Urban Fantasy. Both share a “hidden London” setting and cops as central characters. London Falling reminded me a lot of Rivers of London to start with, but there are two essential differences: The London here is a London that is horrifying and scary rather than whimsical and quirky (at least in this first entry, opportunities to explore this further will undoubtedly arise in further installments). And the main characters in London Falling are completely powerless and have no supernatural help, having to rely on their regular police procedures to face unimaginable evil. Heck, British cops don't even carry guns. This creates wonderful opportunity for awkward, hilarious moments where the cops have to follow normal procedure when dealing with the fantastical: You try and tell a goddesslike creature that she is under arrest and see what happens.
Similarly funny (but extremely thoughtful) is when the team reach a moment of despair and, without anything else to go on, they ask for a Pastor, an Imam and a Rabbi to “bless” objects so they can use them and the three, being the modern folks that they are, are horrified at such old-fashioned views. They insist on telling the cops that “holy water” and “sacred objects” are nothing but symbols and should not be taken at face value. These brief moments of levity are far in between though, as London Falling’s central plot deals with harrowing, sickening events.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the novel is the way the fantastical elements are explained. London is a city that is alive and changing, that is both traditional and modern (reminding me in a way of yet another recent British Urban Fantasy, Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son), and whose supernatural side is shaped by both personal and collective memories.
On the down side, I thought the writing to be a bit awkward in places, with weird breaks in the narrative and excessive head-hopping. One could also say that the characters do fall under certain stereotypical patterns but to me, there is enough interesting character development and back story here to make those characters come to life. Just about.
I also need to comment on the fact that the central group of characters is quite diverse. Two cops are Black (one of them gay); two cops are women (one of them the main chief of their entire organization) and no remarks are made on their ability to do their jobs because they are women. Bonus point: The only romance in the novel is the one between two blokes, Kevin and Joe.
At the end of the day, London Falling was simply a fun book and its epilogue, a tasty morsel for what is to come. I am very much looking forward to it.
In Book Smugglerish, an excited 7 out of 10.