THE SEVERED STREETS by PAUL CORNELL
HB, 401 pages, Tor
This review contains spoilers for both “The Severed Streets” and “London Falling” – be warned!
“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.”
But there is a shadow over London as the long Summer of Blood wears on. Quill and his team can feel it, in the air, in the visions their accidentally acquired Sight brings them. Things are coming to the boil in Hidden London, and the effects are spilling over into the non-supernatural streets of the city. When an MP is murdered, impossibly, brutally, in his locked car, it soon appears that the vengeful spirit of Jack the Ripper has risen from Hell, and this time his victims are the rich white men of the London Elite. Quill’s team are in a race against time to stop him as he kills again, and again, and with rioting on the streets and fissures in their own fragile team, it seems things are rapidly going to Hell, in every sense including the literal one…
In my review of Paul Cornell’s previous James Quill novel, “London Falling” (on Fantasy Faction, go here : http://fantasy-faction.com/2013/london-falling-by-paul-cornell ) I mentioned the series passing resemblance to Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”, drawing as it did on the mythology of London to create a hidden underworld that only the gifted, or cursed, could see and interact with. So it’s strangely appropriate that Gaiman himself makes a significant cameo appearance in the novel, all disheveled hair and leather jacket, as one of those who knows the secrets of the City.
Sadly, Gaiman’s appearance is one of the few bum notes in an otherwise excellent novel. The real-life cameo is a little disconcerting, especially when juxtaposed with the character of sly billionaire media mogul Russell Vincent, who runs a newspaper empire out of Wapping and dabbles in political manipulation, dream-hacking and the Dark Arts. I can’t help but wonder why, if Cornell choose to make up a Murdochian villain (what? Murdochian? It’s a word…), why he couldn’t have made up a scruffy-haired fantasy writer with an interest in London myths, who could have come off the pages without any preconceptions from the readers. That probably counts as a nit-pick, but it’s something that bugged me and pulled me out of the story, which is a shame.
The story itself is dark as all Hell, mirroring the tone set in “London Falling” with the Witch of West Ham and her child-boiling antics, and taking place only shortly after the events in that novel, when Quill’s team are still struggling to regain their feet in this new world. It’s touching to see the two most broken members of the team, Ross and Costain, make tentative efforts towards an ultimately doomed relationship. She is determined to rescue her dad from Hell; he is equally determined to avoid going there, and the sacrifices they both make are terrible and, ultimately, in vain. But it’s Quill, the good cop, who ultimately suffers the most and pays the highest price in the quest to catch the Ripper, and it’s the secret knowledge that he uncovers on his dark quest that will undoubtedly colour any further books in the series.