London Under Midnight review

Richard Laymon said Simon Clark is "a master of eerie thrills". Sarah read this book, and didn't really agree.

“Vampire Sharkz. They’re coming to get you.” That’s the message written all over London’s walls in London Under Midnight, and also, crucially, the line written on the back of the book’s cover – which is what attracted me to it.

The graffiti refers to a plague of vampires who swim through the Thames and run amok through the city; sadly, they’re not actually vampire sharks, though if the Thames became shark-infested overnight, that would be pretty scary in and of itself.

Probably scarier than what actually happens in London Under Midnight, anyway.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll say that it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be. London Under Midnight is a very formulaic book: there’s romantic tension, a girl that needs saving, and a monster that needs to be slain. There’s even a deus ex machina in the shape of, well, what Spike Lee would call a “magical, mystical Negro”.

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Which isn’t to say that it’s badly written: there are some really inventive moments in the book, some really gory bits, and one scene in particular that, despite a complete and utter lack of gore, is nevertheless so horrific that it’ll give me nightmares for a long while yet. Clark scores some points for that.

But … it’s still the same old formula. I’ve read it (and watched it, in a million and one films) played out in exactly the same way, with interchangeable victims and monsters, over and over again. There’s no deviation from the norm here. Within the first chapter or two, it’s all too easy to plot out exactly how the rest of the book will play out – although I’ve rarely seen an ending handled quite this poorly. Lots and lots of writers seem to write themselves into a corner in which their monsters are just too powerful and scary to be plausibly defeated by their flawed and human protagonists, but I can’t remember seeing a cop-out quite this dramatically shit.

The thing is, while I was reading the book on the Tube to and from work, I was engrossed. The writing is strong enough, with enough style, that it kept me entertained in spite of all the other noisy, smelly commuters shoving their elbows and umbrellas into my face. Simon Clark is a competent writer, definitely.

But the story here was weak, and as the book progressed more and more of my goodwill was squandered, to the point where the climax actually made me slam the book down and swear at it. It’s frustrating to see someone who clearly can write, and isn’t completely devoid of ideas, peddling such uninspired crap. The only explanation I can come up with for that ending was that he was past deadline and desperate to get the book out of the door, so he just wrote the first nonsensical thing that came into his head. It’s that bad.


2 out of 5