Neil Gaiman,
(Avon, 1997)

Neil Gaiman wears many hats in the publishing industry. He's written short stories, plays, poetry, a biography of Duran Duran and Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion. He's also the author of the DC comics Sandman series, which ran for seven years. Neverwhere is his first novel and major literary effort after several years of living for the monthly deadline of a comic book. It has Sandman fingerprints all over it, with an equally colorful cast of characters and the same sort of dreaming landscape that was the fixture of the graphic series, except that this time the rather ordinary hero is a man named Richard Mayhew, and the landscape he's exploring with his companions is the London Underground.

Apparently there are all sorts of things crawling around in the dank tunnels of London -- worlds unseen to the less gifted, Muggle-style people who simply cannot see the strange beings who inhabit the otherworld. Richard, unfortunately, can see them, as does his companion, a girl named Door, who is trying to discover who hired an assassin to murder her family, and the Marquis De Carabas (the name of the lead character in "Puss in Boots"). That's the sort of rich magic that permeates the book from beginning to end. Gaiman's literary references are alive as ever, and more than make up for the sometimes thin plot by adding an intellectual density that few people can pull off very well without sounding pretentious. In Gaimin's hands, every story is safe. He will always find a way to hook you in, and he does so, with aplomb, on almost every level.

The plot builds neatly and slowly, full of dramatic developments and creepy characters like Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. The tension is drawn out masterfully. Folklore drips from every page.

The story takes place in the '80s music scene. Mayhew, an ordinary chap with a job and a fiancee, finds a wounded girl, cares for her and, in true fairy-tale style, finds himself plunged into a fantastic world whose map is a network of the London Metro. It's a world where time has little meaning. There are people from all parts of time and space there, including a scheming angel and the aforementioned Mr. C and Mr. V, a horrifyingly fascinating pair of Abbot and Costello demonic hit men who are after Door, to finish the job of killing off her family. Joining them is the lovely, deadly bodyguard, Hunter.

There's not a hair out of place on characterization; as usual, they are an eccentric but highly believable and colorful cast. The theme of heroic quest is familiar but well-handled. Humor is doled out in liberal doses, making it an enthralling read from first page to last. Gaiman's transition between genres is a smooth ride on the Tube.

The companion television miniseries is well worth checking out. Another sort of companion to the Neverwhere universe, "What I thought I Saw" is the book of photos Neil and friends took of the filming of the BBC miniseries in the Underground.

- Rambles
written by Mary Harvey
published 1 February 2003

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