Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Thrashings, Anne Boleyn and strange deaths: a West Ham-based murder mystery by Paul Cornell.

If a chill runs down your spine next time you’re in the Bobby Moore Stand at the Boleyn Ground then blame Paul Cornell. For the Hammers are at the heart of a supernatural conspiracy in former Doctor Who/ Marvel Comics author’s latest bestselling novel, London Falling. Resembling a cross between The Sweeney and Being Human, it taps into West Ham’s actual real-life past as it centres around a covert police unit’s quest to track down a centuries-old serial killer, who just happens to target any player who dares to score a hat trick against the mighty Irons.

“I wanted an ancient villain and I wanted something that killed off footballers,” explains Cornell. “If you look at West Ham and how far back its history goes in terms of the football club connecting to the history of Boleyn Castle, that gave me a way to create a villain that made sense in football terms. All the historical stuff about West Ham in the book is true but the urban legend about how anyone who gets three goals against then dies is not true. I made that up!”

In fact, Cornell traces West Ham’s lineage back to the time of the Tudors. “One of the things that I like about London football clubs is how far their roots go back because they’re great accumulators of tradition and legend,” says Cornell, whose main villain Mora Losley originally gains her powers while working for Ann Boleyn at Green Street House, which is now the site of the Boleyn Ground. “There’s this lovely link to the world of Henry VIII and the idea that he banned football really just made it work She sees a group of men playing football and disobeying what Henry has done. So she becomes a West Ham fan and uses her powers to magic a season ticket into being every year and changes her birthday accordingly.”

Despite casting the club in a somewhat shadowy light, Cornell has had an enthusiastic response online from Hammers fans. “They keep popping up on Twitter, which is great,” he says. “I think they quite enjoy the idea that a supernatural force is looking after them.”

More controversially, West Ham perform quite haplessly in London Falling, suffering several thrashings and not even registering once on the scoreboard. “It’s only because they have to lose quite heavily to justify the plot,” laughs Cornell. “I haven’t had any negative feedback about that at all. I think they appreciate that the portrayal of everyone involved with the club is positive in that I had to make up an awful lot of fictional players and staff so that I could then mess with their lives and potentially kill them. But really it’s nothing against West Ham.”

A cricket fan himself, Cornell has actually started keeping a sneaky eye on the Hammers’ recent results. “I’ve become fascinated with West Ham and I’m now paying attention,” he says. “Writing the book, has kind of drawn me to them as I went down to Green Street and walked around the stadium before visiting the Boleyn Castle pub. The book is about the power of places and there’s something nice about the Boleyn Ground. It’s a pity that you might be leaving Upton Park because I do like it a lot.”

West Ham’s victory in last season’s Play-Off Final presented Cornell with a pleasantly awkward problem as he had originally depicted the club as still being in the Championship. “Just as I was proofreading it before it went to print, you got promoted to the Premier League, so I had to get permission from my publishers Tor to go back and alter the names of all the other clubs they played, which wasn’t in the promotional copies, only the finished product.”

London Falling is published by Tor $12.99

Review by Stephen Jewell

Twitter - @stephenjewell

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