Review of The Severed Streets – Book2 of The Shadow Police by Paul Cornell

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Summer in London: a city in turmoil. The vicious murder of a well-known MP is like a match to tinder but Detective Inspector James Quill and his team know that it’s not a run-of-the-mill homicide. Still coming to terms with their new-found second sight, they soon discover that what is invisible to others – the killer – is visible to them. Even if they have no idea who it is.

severedstreetsThen there are more deaths. Even with their abilities to see the supernatural, accepting that Jack the Ripper is back from the dead is a tough ask for Quill’s team. As they try to get to grips with their abilities and a case that’s spiralling out of control, Quill realizes that they have to understand more about this shadowy London, a world of underground meetings, bizarre and fantastical auctions, and objects that are ‘get out of hell free’ cards. But the team’s unlikely guide, a bestselling author, can’t offer them much insight – and their other option, the Rat King, speaks only in riddles. Relying on old-fashioned police work and improvising with their new skills only lands them in deeper water, and they soon realize that the investigation is going to hell – literally. And if they’re not careful, they may be going with it…

That’s the blurb. Does The Severed Streets build on the strong start that London Falling provides? (See my review here.) Oh yes. Cornell effectively continues the headlong hurtle into another apocalyptic adventure for London and the newly formed special unit. And if we thought the last case was testing – this one ramps the stakes up even higher. Cornell has the four team members tell their own slice of the story in third person viewpoint (s/he). James Quill is the main protagonist, though each member of the team is put through the wringer in uniquely awful ways, while struggling to come to terms with their newly acquired Sight. And as in the first case, the learning curve is necessarily steep because London is going up in flames around them – and the ultimate, rather unpleasantly plausible consequence awaiting the Brits is going to be dire.

After reading the first book, I was already aware that Cornell doesn’t scruple to expose his protagonists to the full force of what his antagonists are capable of – but there were places in this roller-coaster adventure when my jaw plain dropped. It’s brave and gutsy writing – but I do wonder what bells and whistles Cornell still has in his locker for the third in the series. However, my concerns are probably unfounded as he is far too experienced a writer to be caught flat-footed in such an obvious way. Perhaps the question really is – can my nerves stand it? I found Ross’s storyline particularly heartbreaking…

There is also the appearance of a certain well-known writer in a morally ambivalent role. To be honest, I found his sudden emergence a rather jarring breach of the fourth wall in a story where everyone else was fictional. However, my husband thought the interlude was amusing and it in no way interfered with his enjoyment – and he is a far pickier reader than me. So I guess the inclusion of Neil Gaiman is very much a matter of taste.

What is undeniable is the quality of the writing. In my opinion, Cornell is right up there with Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series, which is the benchmark in this particular sub-genre, very closely followed by Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. So I am delighted to have such an accomplished additional series to add to my reading list, while agog to learn what happens to the interesting, excruciating dynamic within the team as they stagger forward…
9/10

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2 responses »

  1. Let’s just say it’s a quiet Monay and I have found myself perusing your reviews I’ll have to pop on over to London Falling after realising this is the sequel. I think book reviews are hazardous to my wallet. Oh well, Christmas soon and I refuse to read another James Patterson novel.

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