Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Severed Streets Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Severed Streets
by Paul Cornell

The Severed Streets is a direct sequel to London Falling by Paul Cornell (For a *SPOILER* free review go here). In London Falling an unlikely collection of London Metropolitan detectives are drawn into a supernatural murder spree when the target of their undercover operation is shockingly murdered. Detectives James Quill, Kevin Sefton, and Tony Costain, and their civilian analyst Lisa Ross, gain supernatural sight when they accidentally expose themselves to a powerful totem. Gifted with The Sight they find themselves in communication with a hidden and horrifying secret London. The coppers, using their new sensitivity, to find and destroy the murderous witch Mora Losley saving London children and footballers from future deaths. Except Losley wasn't acting alone, and the powerful Smiling Man has plans for London, plans only Quill and his team can hope to stop.

In The Severed Streets, London is on fire. Political dissidents and rioters run amok in a summer of unrest, burning the city and pressing the London metropolitan police to the breaking point. Between Toff masked protestors, looters, and political mismanagement, the beleaguered Met is even contemplating a policemen's strike. And then Michael Spatley MP, the chief secretary to the Treasury, a very high ranking member of Her Majesty's government is murdered in a manner that can only be described as "impossible". Quill and his team of supernaturally sensitive detectives are sent on the case which leads them on a hunt for an invisible serial killer able to strike the most powerful men in the country anywhere. A case that will force the team to travel further into London's supernatural underworld and which will place each of them in tremendous physical and existential danger.

The Severed Streets is a cracking good detective novel. The mystery is pleasantly convoluted and the journey to solving it is a smart exercise in deduction and dream-logic. With some vibrant, charismatically flawed coppers, lovely London-English prose, and some properly exciting action sequences The Severed Streets was a really enjoyable page turner of a novel. As a detective story with supernatural horror elements, I thought The Severed Streets was a really enjoyable novel.

As a pure horror novel though, I felt like The Severed Streets wasn't as good as its predecessor London Falling. The coppers of London Falling were completely out of their depth and overwhelmed by forces with alien motivations and irresistible power; the universe was dangerously, ferociously inexplicable and the coppers seemed powerless in the face of it. Add in a few moments of truly mind-fucking dread (one moment in particular still gives me the chills) and London Falling is one completely horrifying book. The Severed Streets features a team of coppers who have more experience and are pursuing a criminal with much more mundane goals. The supernatural felt less mysterious and big and scary and more quirky, whimsical, and creepy. Less Lovecraft and more Gaiman. I found Severed Streets a far less dreadful a book and therefore a less successful work of horror.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. It makes sense for the coppers of The Severed Streets to be more experienced and knowledgeable about the unseen world and for them to be more active participants and less reactive victims in this novel. And this growth in competence makes the police procedural elements work better: it is more compelling to read about detectives who can directly engage with their adversary than only react to it in fear. Besides, The Severed Streets still delivers some very disturbing moments, the way the novel depicts the cost of magic, for instance, is chilling. I just found The Severed Streets more interesting as a law enforcement novel with supernatural elements than as a horror novel starring police, which is a different experience than London Falling. 

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something to read. It is a really well written mixture of diverse genre elements that I think makes The Severed Streets an accessible novel to a wide audience. I think if you haven't read a Paul Cornell novel than you should read London Falling first, since The Severed Streets is a direct sequel and because I found London Falling the more original and scary story. The Severed Streets is still a properly exciting and engrossing read, and is the better detective story so it is still worth checking out on its own. Honestly, I think you should find time in your reading schedule for both these novels, and if you've read London Falling and enjoyed it, you absolutely need to check out The Severed Streets too. 

Post by Michael Bround

London Falling

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