1 December, 2022

LitStack Rec: Nora Webster and London Falling & The Severed Streets

London Falling & The Severed Streets, Paul Cornelllondon

This week came the welcome news that Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, the third installment of author Paul Cornell’s “Shadow Police” series, will be released on May 19th. This is very exciting news.

If you like the supernatural, detective fiction, psychological thrillers, police procedurals or just plain strange things happening in your literary experiences, then I highly recommend jumping on the “Shadow Police” bandwagon now so as to be ready for Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? when it hits the bookshelves later this spring.

Here’s some background to whet your appetite: London Detective Inspector James Quill and his team – undercover officers Tony Costain and Kev Sefton, and analyst Lisa Ross – while working on a case taking down what they thought was a drug ring, end up imbued with “the Sight”: the ability to see the manifestations of evil that are always prowling the streets of London; the haunts, the occults, the shadows, the shades and more. This macabre ability brings them into contact with all sorts of underworld and supernatural creatures, even, at times, forcing them to stare into Hell itself, or at least a private Hell as perceived by their own minds.

Author Paul Cornell, no stranger to writing fast paced and authentic pieces ranging from comics (Young Avengers, Wolverine, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, and That Damned Band, among others) and television shows (“Robin Hood”, “Primeval”, etc.), to Doctor Who tie-in novels, stand alone novels, and short fiction (his novella Witches of Lychford was just shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Association Award) has crafted his “Shadow Police” novels to be more than merely supernatural horror works – although there is plenty of the supernatural in them, and a whole heaping bunch of horror. The prose bristles with police jargon and urban patois, which is both off-putting and validating at the same time. The fantastical elements, whether somewhat humorous or downright terrifying, are offset by the officers’ commitment to no-nonsense, systematic, methodical police work. (And getting Neil Gaiman to agree to becoming a “real life” not-always-sympathetic character in The Severed Streets was a major coup!)

But it is the way that Mr. Cornell deals with the internal conflicts of his main characters – Quill, Costain, Sefton and Ross – that takes these books from entertaining to superlative. His characters are genuine, mightily flawed and deeply vulnerable when wounded at their most guarded points, dedicated yet scrambling for footing as they are thrown for a loop against something that not only is beyond their experience, but beyond imagining. They recognize the Sight as a means to bring order to their world, and to hold a heretofore hidden segment of the population of London accountable for their actions, but its toll on each of them is high.severed

These are not your typical supernatural crime thriller novels; neither are they for those who are squeamish. While the gore factor is not artificially high, it does exist, and the forces that Quill and his team must face are not reticent to play on mankind’s deepest fears with no mercy. But even with the horror and the unsettling forces at play, the stories are uplifting; not that there are “happy endings”, but in the dedication of these people to soldier on, for the greater good – even if the face of that sense of “good” is constantly changing.

Both London Falling and The Severed Streets are highly recommended; I have no doubt that Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? will be as well, when the time comes.

—Sharon Browning