Paul Cornell's third Shadow Police novel is, frankly, a corker. Set soon after the Severed Streets, it gives us a team shattered by the events of that novel, trying valiantly to pick up the pieces and to solve the new case they are faced with. A seemingly impossible case, who did kill Sherlock Holmes, and how can a fictional character be killed in the first place? With Quill confronting the terrible knowledge he learned in the last book, Ross deprived of a human emotion, and Costain suffering an immense amount of guilt over his role in betraying her over her father, only Sefton is anywhere in a good place - and his role as the team's resident weirdness specialist makes him the most likely to suffer if anything odd comes up. The fact that the book begins with him suffering a nightmare about the death of Sherlock Holmes serves as an illustration of this. As a series of impossible crimes, drawn from the Sherlock Holmes stories rock the city. Despite the nature of the crimes, and the fact that the team has a 'bible' to work from Cornell plays the events well, twisting the crimes enough to avoid simply recreating the stories. As ever, he shows a good knowledge and use of social media and the media in general, using similar ideas to the ones we've already seen in London Falling and Severed Streets.
Cornell sets about building more of his world up, focusing on the team's sponsor Lofthouse far more than in the previous novels, and on the Continuing Projects Team who have haunted the books since London Falling. We start to get answers to the questions about them, more details about who they were and what they did, and the role of Cornell's personal Satan, the Smiling Man, in both their downfall and what he intends for the city.
What struck me was the rawness of the characters' emotions, it really feels as if they are falling apart for a lot of the book, and Cornell navigates this well, bringing them through trauma and allowing the reader to feel their pain without it ever becoming overwhelming. To his credit, he does not flinch from what he's set himself to do and in particular shows the effects of what looks to be Quill's nervous breakdown on the series' main heterosexual relationship in a stark light, while allowing us to see both sides. Spurred on by the revelations of the last book, Quill, spirals into obsession and depression, almost completely breaking apart as he tries to unravel the mystery.
Ross, in the meantime, is drawn into not only an affair with one of London's Gods but also into the quest to uncover her missing emotion, It is through her plot that we largely explore London's occult world, as it continues to change around the team. Cornell's unique vision of the Underground remains one of my favourite parts of the series, setting out as it does something that feels authentic, and avoids a large number of cliches (I hope we do get a novel with vampires in it simply because I sense it'll be very different to anything else with vampires out there).
The novel does feel a little busy at times, as if a bit too much has been stuffed into it. Mostly this doesn't affect the plot too much, but there are times when it felt as if there were a few too many characters for the book to handle.