RogerBW's Blog

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, Paul Cornell 31 May 2020

2016 urban fantasy, third in the Shadow Police series. In this version of London, people's memories and obsessions bring something like ghosts to life… and now the ghost of Sherlock Holmes has been murdered.

So who are our heroes?

DI Quill, traumatised by the knowledge that everyone who's ever lived in London (including his wife and daughter) is going to Hell (or already there, if already dead)..

Costain, traumatised by his visit to Hell, and betrayed by Ross.

Ross, with her capacity for happiness permanently removed, and betrayed by Costain.

DSup Lofthouse, whose husband has been possessed by a demon that will hurt or kill him if she starts looking into things it doesn't like. She also has a key which mysteriously appeared one night, which influences her emotions based on whether she's planning things it likes or not (and which, it turns out, was Behind Everything All Along), and which she never suspects might not be entirely benevolent.

Sefton, who's The Gay One and (therefore?) better-adjusted than all the rest of them.

I mean, I can believe in tough characters coming through under pressure. But these characters don't seem terribly tough, and the pressures are huge; so when they start to come through, it feels like authorial fiat rather than their own virtues. (Which of course it is, but it shouldn't feel like it.) I'm no more interested in reading about people being tortured than these characters are pleased to look back on their experiences in Hell!

It doesn't help that the story structure is blatant; just about at the 70% mark, the characters finally start talking to each other, and while everything before has been a downbeat slog, everything afterwards is up. (Including a come-to-Jesus moment in which someone Admits He Needs Therapy.)

We do learn some things about the previous occult guardians of London (if you are in any way "posh", you are complacent and incompetent).

The villain is one of those master plotters who knows exactly how the heroes will react and therefore builds his plans round that. Except when he doesn't, after that 70% mark. We're also supposed to notice one of the principals behaving out of character… but they're all so stressed, and so thinly drawn in the first place, that they barely have character to behave out of. (Yeah, this is one of those "narrator is not quite lying but is being actively deceptive" books.)

Things change, but not too much; a way of getting magical sight has to be removed after one character has used it because we need to keep having the tension between the sighted and unsighted, and this removal is done in a clumsy, obvious and unconvincing way.

This series annoys me because it could so easily have been good. But Cornell is always desperate to up the stakes, to keep poking at the whole "hell is a real place and we are directly involved with it" thing until the human stories start to seem irrelevant.

There hasn't been a further volume in this series; Tor UK dropped the line.

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Previous in series: The Severed Streets | Series: Shadow Police

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 12:18pm on 31 May 2020

    Yeah, the series lost me after the second book, because after some reflection I realized it was going in directions that weren't to my taste.

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