2.5 to 3 stars
I sought out London Falling as it was recommended by Ben Aaronovich, who writes my very favorite Peter Grant books.
But this didn’t quite work.
The coming together of an investigative team? Police procedural? Thriller? Serial killers? All ingredients that sound appealing to many mystery readers, but I’m betting the juxtaposition here won’t work for most. Personally, I don’t lean too far into thriller territory, but there are some exceptions. This isn’t one.
Cornell kept my attention with a fast moving plot and interesting writing. The narrative drops the reader down into the end of an on-going investigation, so it takes a few pages to find one’s bearings, particularly if one isn’t familiar with British police terms. A glossary in the back is helpful. I was particularly fond of the vivid descriptions that make the magical seem plausible, and capture the confusion of people confronting it for the first time:
“The stairs, right in front of her, were particularly challenging. It was as if you could see underneath the stairwell and yet up it at the same time. The up-and-down pattern of the stairs seemed to be overlaid on the surface of your eyes. But it was still contained within a discrete space. It was like a Picasso painting of a stairway.”
London plays an important role in the story, and its rich and varied scenes lend a nice sense of setting. Characterization of people, however, is a little weak. The third-person narrative jumps between the perspective of Quill, the Detective Inspector leading a two year-long undercover operation; Costain, the lead undercover officer who might be sampling too much product; Sefton, a junior undercover officer; and Ross, an analyst. While Cornell should get credit for putting together a team that is diverse in more than the traditional ways, their ‘voices’ don’t attain much individuality or style, only a difference in history and personal issues that they are bringing into the scene. Additional short narratives only serve to further confuse the voice issue. That said, Cornell does a nice job of making the Evil in the book foreboding and horrorific:
“She looked at him as if it was astonishing and humiliating to hear her name coming from him. She laughed, and it was a witches’ laugh. Not like witches did in children’s television. That was only a distant, safe memory of this. Her laugh sounded like small bones caught in an old throat. As if she was on the verge of choking, only she wasn’t feeling the threat of that–only you were.”
I enjoyed the magic system and the process of the officers attempting to comprehend a world they were unprepared to find. The attempt to delineate their knowledge on a normal Operations Board had a nicely realistic touch of taking the unfamiliar and trying to find a pattern.
Most significantly for me, the combination of Evil’s purpose and method was very, very off. A side road into how Evil began created some false sympathy in a situation where none was deserved, and confused a modern storyline with historical trivia that broke continuity, as it had little to do with current events. Plotting was partially redeemed by an unexpected twist that brought the problem home.
Come to think of it, I tried Jeaniene Frost because author Ilona Andrews periodically squees about her books, and that was a miss as well. Consider my lesson learned. Whether the authors are friends or blurbing for professional reasons, it’s not a reason to read the book. This isn’t a complete miss; there’s enough to tempt me into the next book when it appears, even if I wouldn’t buy it.