Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell

This is the sequel to London Falling, the first of the Shadow Police series, which I reviewed in July last year. I was impressed with the tale, in which a team of police officers in present-day London discover that the supernatural is all too horrifyingly and murderously real. The Severed Streets is set a few months later, with the team still together and trying to get used to the "Sight" which they had all accidentally acquired and which enables them to see supernatural beings and events which are invisible to normal people.

It is a summer of discontent in the capital, with flash-mobs causing chaos and a resentful police force threatening illegal strikes. A prominent politician is gruesomely murdered in impossible circumstances so the team is called in to investigate. It is immediately obvious to them that a very powerful supernatural force was responsible, but exactly what and why baffles them. While they are still searching for clues, the bodies begin to pile up. In their hunt for answers, they delve into the city's occult underworld but keep finding every likely avenue being blocked. In the meantime, the members of the team have their own problems, both privately and with each other.

It literally takes a trip to Hell to solve the mystery but even that doesn't tie up all of the loose ends. At least one of the team is badly affected by the outcome, and there is a considerable mystery about what exactly their Superintendent knows that they don't. Clearly, this is not a series in which each volume is going to conclude tidily, so there will be more to come. I must admit that while the story is very well written, it is even darker and bloodier than the last one and includes some genuinely shocking moments, to the point at which I was beginning to be turned off the story. In the end, thought, I was pleased that I had persevered and I await further developments with interest.

One curiosity is that Neil Gaiman is one of the characters – yes, the real-life fantasy author, with the added twist that he knows about the occult underworld and has a part to play in the story. This certainly catches the attention but I am rather baffled by the motivation, and I'm not at all sure that this blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction is a good thing. Does it presage further "guest appearances"? Will Paul Cornell be appearing as a magical character in Gaiman's next novel? I think we should be told…

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