BOOK REVIEW: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

Title: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?
Author: Paul Cornell
Publisher: Pan
Published: 19 May 2016
RRP: £8.99

Who Killed Sherlock Homes? is the third in Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series, a series set in a London that only those with the Sight can experience, one in which magic is real, ghosts are annoying and fictional characters can be murdered just like everyone else.

The series follows DI James Quill and his small team who accidentally contract the Sight (see London Falling for more details) and now find themselves policing the shadow realm. Their latest case brings them to Baker Street and the body of Sherlock found stabbed in his apartment. Of course no one else can see it but that doesn’t mean justice shouldn’t be served and the team find themselves yet again going up against (and trying to arrest) forces they don’t quite understand.

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? follows directly on from The Severed Streets and finds the team recovering from the consequences of that case, one that took some of them to hell and back. They are a damaged team, one barely functioning as a unit and this latest book puts them through the mill again. Thankfully a little more is revealed about the role of DS Lofthouse, their commanding officer who has been protecting them without really saying why. Now we find out more about her story as she comes to the fore and helps try and put the team back together again. Suffice to say The Smiling Man is back, he who is not quite Satan and may, in fact, be worse.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Cornell’s series for a London history geek such as myself series is that it is so London-centric. The Sight doesn’t appear to work outside the M25 and only objects with London history (or perceived London history) have any power. This brings up a delightfully layered view of London, of Jack-in-the-Green wandering lost through Soho, of places echoing through the centuries. In many ways it’s Peter Ackroyd and Ian Sinclair’s psychogeography as fantasy fiction, of layered meaning echoing through history. Things don’t necessarily have to be real to have historical fact, they just need to be known as such. Sherlock Holmes, though fictional, is such a London character (in fact the only fictional character to have a blue plaque) that “London” expects him to be real and so he is.

You don’t have to be a London-phile to enjoy the books though. There is plenty for any fan of magic, the occult and police procedurals. The attention to detail is great as always, the merging of standard police practice with the shadow world raises the usual smiles, and you get a real sense the Cornell loves his characters, loves torturing them to be sure, but only to see how they can triumph. The book is a masterful tightrope walk between fantasy and whodunnit and shows an author really hitting a hot streak (last years fantastic Witches of Lychford covered similar ground in a rural setting and is well worth seeking out).

The only downside with Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? is that it isn’t the best jumping on point. You do really need to have read London Falling and The Severed Streets to “get” what’s going on. But for those who are up to speed it’s a marvellous piece of work, developing the main characters (all fully rounded and avoiding cliché), expanding on the world (one in which Hell may be a London borough) and leaving enough to teasers for fans to hope it runs for many more novels yet.

GS Rating: 4/5

GS Blogger: Bobby Diabolus

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