21 May 2014

Review: The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

This is the second of Cornell’s series featuring James Quill and his team of paranormally aware London police officers – or rather, the fact that there is a second volume means, I suppose, that now there is a series.  “London Falling” certainly deserved a follow up, and this is as good or better.  There is a bit of recapping at the start, necessary because details from the earlier book matter quite a bit here, but Cornell prevents that making the story drag – rather we’re into violent action from the start, with the team racing to stop a supernatural killer who acts very much like Jack the Ripper – except that his victims are not poor women but rich men.

This tales place against a background of cuts, austerity and protest. Even the police are about to down truncheons and strike. London is suddenly full of demonstrators dressed (and masked) as “Toffs” – among whom the killer can slip unnoticed.

As with the previous book, the investigation has Quill’s team – Ross, Sefton and Costain – strained to the limit (or way beyond).  They have the Sight, the ability to see that other, magical London, but they’re not wizards, they can’t control it or protect themselves or others except by applying their policing skills, working methodically and deductively – and putting themselves in the line of fire.  There is a real feeling of danger in this book, of sulphur and brimstone, as the team take risks.  Probably, some of them go too far.  The plot they’re investigating is a heady mix of politics, ancient power, mixed motives (not least from some of the team themselves) and a clash between old and new ways in the magical community.  Cornell holds this together superbly, conveying the sense that there is order to what’s happening, there is a pattern, it’s not just one thing after another, even when events get very bizarre indeed.

It is becoming clear that behind the immediate events of the books there is a deeper story unfolding, involving the Smiling Man who turned up in London Falling.  Something is wrong in London, connected with the absence of the “Continuing Projects Team”, leaving the magical side of things unpoliced.  Quill’s team, answering to the enigmatic Lofthouse, seek to fill this gap, but they don’t know the rules – a tricky situation for police to be in.

It’s a superb story which builds tension and gets harder and harder to put down. I’m looking forward to the next!

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