Absalom: Ghosts Of London

Harry Absalom is an old school copper. Harry runs a small unit in the Met that are called in when the truly horrific crimes occur. Because in 1578 a treaty was signed between the English Crown and the rulers of Hell to ensure they could co-exist relatively simply. Not easily, and certainly not peacefully, but simply. Because even Hell has laws, and Harry Absalom has walked this beat far longer than any of his officers truly know.

I don’t know what it is about the last couple of years but the “Occult Sweeney” sub-genre of contemporary fantasy and horror has taken off in a big way. Whatever it is, I like it, because Absalom joins Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London and Paul Cornell’s London Falling as a superior piece of bloody knuckled, multi-eyed crime fiction.

Rennie and Trevallion co-created the book and you can see their investment in this world on every page. Tiernen’s art is a perfect fit, the cold, clean streets of modern London contrasting with the crowded, filthy streets of the city’s past. Tiernen truly excels in character design though, with Absalom a fantastically seedy explosion of whiskey and white hair in a seemingly indestructible trenchcoat.

His sidekicks, DS Jemima Hopkins and DS Terence Sangster are equally impressive: Hopkins is a precise, diligent officer learning to work with a very new set of rules whilst Sangster is a charming, amiable, slightly amoral bruiser. The third story here, “Ghosts Of London”, sees a former associate of Oswald Mosley using the London Stone to re-fight the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Oswald Mosley’s fascists were turned back. Sangster’s reaction, as an officer of colour, is abject joy; he’s wanted a piece of these idiots his whole life. The book’s full of great character beats like that, and all intricately woven into the history of England in general and London in particular. Oh, and classic TV cop shows, as revealed in “Sick Leave”, the second story in the book. A chilling one-shot in which Absalom talks to either his eventual death or something unspeakable from Hell, it reveals he worked with Jack Regan, of The Sweeney , and Charlie Barlow of Z-Cars . It’s a lovely little nod to the great and the good (or at least good enough) of London crime fiction and it seats Harry, if not with the angels, then certainly with good company.

How long he’ll be there is open to question, though. The opening story “Noblesse Oblige” sees Harry and his team run foul of an escaped Rathbone child. The Rathbones interbred with demons and now largely run the country, with the less… um… functional of the brood locked away in an Asylum. When one breaks loose, Harry and the others must not only track it down, but work with other elements of the family and their no longer fully human servants. It’s a great story, shot through with dark wit and invention, especially around Mr Critch, Harry’s opposite number with the Rathbones, and the curious friendship they have. It also neatly sets out plot strands to be picked up later, including exactly how virtuous Harry’s employers are, the cancer that may be killing him and the Rathbones’ stranglehold on the country.

If you liked London Falling , Rivers Of London or even Ashes To Ashes , you’re going to love Absalom . It’s crammed full of information, humor, horror and engaging characters and Trevallion’s art is perfectly suited to the rain slick streets of Absalom’s London. This is grungy, dirty finger-nailed horror and I loved every page of it. Hopefully you will too.

Alasdair Stuart

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