Paul Cornell, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (2016)

This is a quick follow-up review to my post on the two first books of Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police. In the comments I’ve suggested it starts well and I’m happy to add it continues so. For me – the best part of the series so far and a reason to read the next one. Beware of minor spoilers, but nothing major. If anything, knowing that would make me feel better while reading volume one, now I know the author knows where he’s going.


The ghost of Sherlock dies quickly, and the identity of his killer is only one of the riddles for our team to solve. They are also chasing the Big Bad of the series, and the truth about the disappearance of their predecessors. Plenty to do for a small team of police officers with varying specialities and sanity levels.

Is this still a horror story? Well, there are violent deaths, and graphic depictions of Cornell’s vision of Hell, but it’s just a sort of grimdark Urban Fantasy, nothing to scar even relatively sensitive readers.

And it definitely feels like a proper UF saga now, with a main story I’m really interested – and emotionally invested – in, to a degree. The supernatural world is a bit more fleshed out, characters grow, story progresses, even some good things happen. There’s a change 😉 Usually I make up my mind faster, here it took me three books, but Shadow Police finally joined the ranks of series I’m definitely going to follow.

Still, not all is great. Worldbuilding, very important for every genre universe, is uneven. I like to London, but I don’t fully buy the main principles of magic here. The way economy works in the supernatural underworld, with sacrifices as a rather inconsistent measure of worth, could not, I believe, sustain even a relatively small community. The way magic is exclusive to the cities, and only some of them – goes against tradition, and tradition that makes a lot of sense. City magic could be unique, but to claim that mysteries of the world originated with big settlements… I’m not convinced. Aaronovitch might be getting worse at plotting his books, but his worldbuilding is way better. And the way magic works, and how relatively easy it is to come upon, I don’t think it’s realistic to assume it would be ignored by the mainstream to such a degree.

Ok, but the strong points of this novel go beyond developing the series in an interesting direction. by itself it’s very cool. Cornell uses Sherlock-mania and many different versions of fiction’s greatest detective, with subtle jabs at a few of his modern incarnations.It’s definitely the best case our protagonists encountered so far!

If you’re hungry for Urban Fantasy darker than Dresden Files – and its less successful clones – that is a nice thing to try. You might like it 🙂

Score: 7/10

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