Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review: Roofworld

Book Review: 'Roofworld' by Christopher Fowler

4 / 5 Stars

‘Roofworld’ first was published in 1988 in hardback by Ballantine; this mass market paperback edition (307 pp) was published in April, 1990. The cover artist is uncredited.

It’s London, December 1988. The weather is miserable: continuous cold rain pelts down from low-hanging dark clouds. The early evening darkness contributes to the depressing atmosphere brought on by the coming start of Winter.

Robert Linden is a disaffected young man who works as a clerk in a small London firm. The firm acquires the licensing rights to novels, then sells the rights for profit to interested film studios. He is tasked with tracking down Charlotte Endsleigh, the authoress of a critically praised, but obscure novel titled The Newgate Legacy.

Linden’s investigation leads him to Endsleigh’s flat in Hampstead, where he meets Rose Leonard, a young 'West Indian' (i.e., black) girl who manages the building. To Linden’s dismay, he learns from Rose that Charlotte Endsleigh is dead, murdered by a prowler who broke into her apartment. Linden is now faced with tracking down Endleigh’s next of kin, her daughter Sarah.

Linden, with Rose Leonard’s help, sets off to find Sarah Endsleigh, a search that takes him into the ‘goth’ subculture of London’s poorer neighborhoods and more eccentric gathering places.There, Robert and Rose make a startling discovery:

For generations, an entire community of outcasts has made the rooftops of metropolitan London their home. In this ‘roofworld’, a network of nylon and steel cables, 
attached to anchor points on the rooftops of London's multi-story buildings, forms a clandestine transportation network. The denizens of roofworld don specially-made harnesses equipped with pulleys, and zipline from one rooftop to another with ease. They make their homes in the small shacks and sheds that are placed upon the larger rooftops; some nevermore descend to the streets, which are looked upon with contempt as the habitat of the ground-dwelling ‘insects’ of conventional humanity.

A code of secrecy, and a habit of restricting their activities to the night hours, has made the majority of London’s population unaware of the existence of roofworld and its population. But as Robert and Rose soon learn, this is about to change. For war has broken out in roofworld between the two major blocs representing its residents.

As the cold, dark, and drizzly days of December unfold, Robert Linden, Rose Leonard, and detective chief inspector Ian Hargreave find themselves drawn into the increasingly violent conflict taking place on roofworld…..a confrontation that may decide the future of not just London, but England itself……

‘Roofworld’ is the second novel (the other being ‘Rune’, 1990) by Christopher Fowler that I have reviewed at this blog. Like ‘Rune’, ‘Roofworld’ is essentially a mystery novel, written in a very accessible, very readable style. There are multiple plot threads, but these are competently handled, aided by the author’s use of short chapters. The story’s major villain is suitably evil, with Fowler’s prose venturing into splatterpunk territory when describing the deaths of those with the misfortune to offend his sociopathic sensibilities.

‘Roofworld’ isn’t perfect; at over 300 pages in length, the middle section of the book tends to drag, and the villain is one of those types who tends to launch into philosophical discourses before visiting mayhem upon his victims. 

But overall, its offbeat backstory, and its setting in the gritty, not-yet-gentrified London of the late 80s, give the book an imaginative quality that makes it worth searching out.

1 comment:

knobgobbler said...

I've had this book sitting around for decades... I think I read the first chapter and then got distracted by another book. Somehow I had a completely different idea of what it was about... but your description intrigues me, I must go dig it out of the bookcase now.