I have only been to London in the real world once – I had just graduated from high school and, as a reward, my parents sent me on one of those two week, whirlwind European tours, where we raced through several of the major cities: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Lucerne, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid. I loved London (loved every place, honestly) and always intended to return. I never have.
Except as an armchair traveler. If we count the number of days I have spent in Piccadilly and Mayfair, lurking in a Tube station, dancing at Almack’s, or solving mysteries in a mansion flat in Whitehaven Manor or Mrs. Hudson’s rooms at 221B Baker Street, I’ve spent months there. Maybe years. Some of those mental trips have been to the London that is real; many of them have been to a fictional London that exists only in the imagination of the author who conjured them up. I love all of the Londons – real and unreal, fact and fiction. The Londons of the past, present and, probably even future.
I think it’s probably my love of Victorian literature that is at the bottom of this London obsession. I can’t get enough of gaslit London – Sherlock Holmes, Dickens musing on the pea-soupers, A Christmas Carol and Scrooge and the Cratchits. Or, possibly, the Regency London of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer (and their progeny), with its strolls along the Serpentine, marriageable Dukes and curricle races. And then, the interwar London and London of the Blitz, the London of Bloomsbury and Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot. These are the Londons that I think of – places that are barely even real because they have been idealized and fictionalized across a century or more, and yet have more depth and resonance to me than Phoenix, Arizona and other brand-new cities scattered across the United States, like infections of urban blight, places I have been and can barely even remember because they all look the same.
- 2020: I read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is the first in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, and takes place partially in 1920’s London.
- 2019: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I’ve mentioned this one a few times in prior posts. Anything involving Jack the Ripper is pretty much catnip to me.
And so far in this post, I haven’t even mentioned the magical Londons – the red London of V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, the underground London of Gaiman’s Neverwhere, the steam-punk London of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, and the ghost-infested Shades of London series by Paul Cornell. And that brings me to this year’s books.
So, for this year, I’m thinking that I will go with the third book in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, Whispers Underground. I recently reread the first, and read the second, in the series and really enjoyed them both, and Whispers Underground is sitting in my library loans. I also have Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco (see above Ripper = catnip comment) checked out, and I am behind on the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, which is sort of a British version of Harry Dresden.