Paul Cornell’s London Falling is a headfirst dive into urban fantasy. Recently this has been a genre dominated by noir and hardboiled detective influences. The Dresden Files is probably the primary and most successful example. Cornell has taken a slightly different tactic, wedding urban fantasy to a gritty cop drama. The result feels surprisingly fresh and surefooted.
The novel follows four police officers—Quill, Costain, Sefton, and Ross—whose investigation into a London mobster inexplicably leads them into a world they never knew existed, a world of witchcraft, otherworldly creatures, ghosts, football, and Tudor history. It is an eclectic mixture tied together through police work and Cornell’s finely tuned sense of mythology.
The characters are well sketched and each have a reasonably successful character arc. It is difficult to delve deep into four main characters, but Cornell manages to give each of them a compelling emotional story that ties them both to the plot and each other. Some are more successful than others, although this is likely a matter of taste. Costain’s journey from seedy undercover cop starts strong but gradually fades as other characters and elements are introduced. Sefton has the most interesting arc in terms of the mythology and the veteran Quill has the most emotionally engaging. That leaves Ross, whose personal connection with the case is slowly teased out and who plays an integral part in the climax, yet never quite leaps off the page as she should. Together, however, they form a cohesive unit with differing beliefs, and numerous conflicts.
Often novels can read like novelizations for movies that haven’t been made yet. London Falling falls into a subtly different category. It reads more like the novelization of a television pilot, which is not unsurprising, given that Cornell has had a successful television career. Seeds have been planted for future plotlines and character developments, and I have every confidence in Cornell’s ability to nurture those seeds. The novel itself, however, is slightly less substantive than expected. Like a good pilot, it points forward and entices the reader, but never fully engages with its own story.
London Falling can be found here on Amazon.