Though I can’t help but wonder if Charlie Stross started it all. His Laundry Files series is about secret agents with occult dealings, rather than police, but there are obvious similarities. ↩︎
Some books take weeks or even months to read. Others slip down in just a few days. This was the latter kind.
Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series is part of a thriving subgenre now. He and Ben Aaronovitch started out at a similar time, I guess, and they’re friends, so I don’t know if they came up with the idea together, or what. Maybe it was just steam-train time. But London cops who deal with the magical, occult side of the city’s problems are very much of today.1
This latest volume picks up not long after The Severed Streets finished, and our characters are in some dark places personally and professionally. But then the ghost of Sherlock Holmes is found murdered at the Holmes museum, and a serial killer starts murdering people in ways inspired by the Holmes stories. The game is afoot, obviously, and our heroes must take part.
This is really, really, good, and highly recommended. Though if you haven’t read them yet, start at the beginning with London Falling.
I'm now so far behind in posting these that I'm just going to put very brief notes up for most of them.
As a sequel to the excellent London Falling this suffers slightly from what feels a bit like middle-book-of-trilogy syndrome; though I believe Cornell intends this to be an ongoing series, rather than a trilogy.
That said, there is an overarching mystery, which we must hope will be resolved over the course of several books. And at that point, maybe he’ll stop. But the actual story here is perhaps slight compared to the origin stories of the first one, and the horror that Quill and his wife, in particular, experienced.
A mysterious ghostly figure – invisible to all who don’t have The Sight, of course – is killing people in London. There appears to be little to connect them at first, but graffiti at some of the scenes suggests there might be a link to Jack the Ripper. Has his ghost come back and this time gone after rich white men? Or is it something else entirely?
It’s a fun read, despite my reservations above, with some amusing reference to fandom, and the terrible, terrible abuse of a giant of the fantasy genre.
Paul Cornell wrote some of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who's recent years: 'Father's Day', and the 'Human Nature'/'Family of Blood' two-parter. After the latter, I downloaded and read the ebook of his original novel (on which the episodes were based). So I came to this with some knowledge of his writing.
But not with so much knowledge of his religious beliefs. I had some sense – from reading his blog, presumably – that he was religious, at least in a vague, Church-of-Englandy sort of way; but I didn’t expect, on picking this up, that it would have such a religious heart (or maybe ‘soul’ would be more appropriate).
Though I’m not sure that the Archbishop of Canterbury would quite approve – and I’m absolutely sure the Pope would not – of the theology.
It’s a fine story of a woman who can read the patterns of the world around her, a space pilot from the future (but is it ‘our’ future?), a disembodied head, and four mysterious ‘golden men’, who might be angels, might be the biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, or might be something else. It’s an easy read, and I recommend it.
But does the religion get in the way of the story? No, not really; though it was something of a distraction at times for this atheist. It’s by no means preachy; indeed, you could argue that the religious interpretation of the events in the story is a misinterpretation. Though since that interpretation is the author’s, that would depend on where you stand on the whole postmodern thing about the author being irrelevant, and the reader entering into a dialogue with the text.
The question for me on a personal note is, would I have approached it differently - or read it at all - if I had known about the religious content before I started it?
The answer is, I would have approached it differently. And, if I hadn’t known the author’s work, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up at all.
By saying that, I’m convicting myself of being likely to prejudge religiously-inspired fiction; well, yes, guilty as charged. Just as I’m likely to prejudge romantic fiction, literary fiction, heroic fantasy, and so on. We don’t approach anything in a vacuum, after all. Our past experiences, our expectations, colour our understanding and appreciation of any art. And we all have our preferences.
Still, if I had known, and rejected this, I’d have missed out on something worthwhile. So that’s worth bearing in mind.