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London Under Midnight
Simon Clark
Severn House paperback £9.99

review by Andrew Darlington

There's no such thing as bad Simon Clark. Some of his books are better than others. That's all. This one is better than most. That makes it very good indeed. It marks a new shift of setting - from his original Yorkshire weird-scapes, through his brief American slasher excursion, to London. A London of Brick Lane multiculturalism, a female mayor, intrusive paparazzi, Levantine fast-food gyros, moral relativism and fundamentalist illogic. A wired city of CCTV-connected web-cams, where a 'forlorn' chorus of ring-tones chime beside the bodies of the dead. A palimpsest London where the shades of Charles Dickens and Jack the Ripper still lurk, and the dark currents of old father Thames forms an artery that threads the city, and flows as it did through ancient Londinium.

Then there's the question "what manner of life lurked in that flow?" Simon Clark has a thing about water, the dark swirls and eddies that quicken its depths. Going back to the elemental tide-borne forces in Beside The Seaside, Beside The Sea, the short story that formed one of his earliest successes. Through the fathoms-deep sea-dwellers that menace the final chapters of Vampyrrhic Rites. His London is a graffiti-scrawled city. Some of this 'unlawful art' is already legendary - 'Clapton is god'. Only now there's a spray-can plague of new graffiti - very specific graffiti sprayed repetitively by an artist with obsessive compulsive disorder, warning VAMPIRE SHARKZ: THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU. Is it a code? A new indie band? A block-party?

Ben Ashton is tasked with finding out, just around the time he re-encounters his secret love, April Connor. And a guy called Trajan who moved in on her after Ben's indecision had led to him losing her. The London they traverse is a global city gravitationally drawing weirdness into itself. With African ritual sacrifice and witchcraft snatched direct from the rolling news, and given a new twist through the ancestor-wise Elmo Kigoma. Then there's eco-change mutations that have induced a form of aquatic vampirism to "evolve into a new life-form" in the Thames, the 'miracle' of New-Life to which blood-lust cannibalism is a narcotic high, a gluttony of exhilarating bliss. Because this is Simon Clark, the form of vampirism he portrays is unlike anything else you've ever read, or viewed, before. He never deals in recycling comfortable retro-shocks. And he creates living breathing - and sometimes dead and still-breathing characters to counter them.

These are real bodies really being killed by real predators. You care about what happens to them. There are some other knowing nudges from his earlier short fiction, the unsettling vision of a transparent graveyard with suspended visible coffins from the Tales From Tartarus story Portrait Of A Girl In A Graveyard, and even the phrase "a biter bit" which he once used to title a tale for Fear magazine. Simon's highly readable prose and clearly defined characters combine to form ideal market-targeted fiction, the only extremism lies in its explicit flesh-munching horror-content, there's no risk taken with dangerous experimental writing, or difficult construction. Nothing is allowed to impede its smooth narrative drive towards the final confrontation on the Thames-island. There's no such thing as a bad Simon Clark book. And this one is better than most.
London Under Midnight

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