Roofworld by Christopher Fowler
One of the great things about running your own book review website is that you can write about whatever books you want. I have written reviews for a fair number of new releases so far this year so I decided, for a bit of a change of pace, that I would revisit some of the novels that I read as a teenager.
Over the coming months I plan to do a few of these types of posts. I’m keen to cast my jaded adult eyes over some titles to see if they still have the same resonance now as they had then. Hopefully, if nothing else, this may introduce some new readers to fiction that they may not have experienced before. Have the books survived the ravages of time? Do they still have something to offer? Do I still feel the same way about them as I did before?
High above London, on the rooftops of the city, lives a secret society of misfits governed by a bizarre code of honour. It is a world known to only a few people on the streets below – until the murderous battle for its leadership breakout.
The first novel I have selected to receive this treatment is Roofworld by Christopher Fowler. The premise is a relatively simple one. For many decades a secret society has existed on the rooftops of London. They live like ghosts and the majority of people are oblivious to their presence.
Enter Robert Linden, an executive for a production company, tasked by his boss to locate novels that can be adapted for the screen. During one such search, Robert meets a woman called Rose Leonard and they are accidentally made aware of the Roofworld’s existence. Circumstances lead them further and further into this alien sub-culture and they are caught in the midst of a power struggle between two opposing forces. On one side, a group of displaced individuals trying to make a life for themselves away from politics and bureaucracy of the world below. On the other, a Satanic cult lead by a mad man who wants nothing but power.
Meanwhile at ground level, the police are struggling to understand the nature of the war that has erupted on London’s rooftops. As bodies literally start dropping from the sky, Detective Inspector Ian Hargreave is called upon to try and make sense of the ongoing slaughter.
The two main characters in Roofworld are well realised. Robert and Rose are polar opposites of one another. He is reserved and somewhat staid, while she is outgoing and curious. You just know that if it wasn’t for this adventure they find themselves on, they would have little in common and never mix in the same social circles. Robert has never taken a chance in his life and is shaken from his cosy existence when he befriends Rose. Their relationship is realistically illustrated by Fowler.
The man trying to maintain order in the Roofworld society is a disgraced Dr called Nathaniel Zalian. He is flawed and troubled by his own inner demons but tries to do the best for all those that find their way to the group.
The leader of the cult is Chymes. This character is the only disappointment in the novel as far as I am concerned. He is suitably violent, mysterious, and evil, but I have always felt like there was more to this man that was never fully explored. It would have been nice to get more details about his motivations and the beginnings of his rise to power. This slight criticism aside, his maniacal qualities do make him a marvellous nemesis.
The thing I still remember from when I first read the novel was that I was utterly engrossed by the society that the author had created. Even now, years later I continue to be impressed by the lengths Fowler has gone to in order to create something that is believable. From the descriptions of the gadgets used to travel across the rooftops, to the explanations of how the society has managed to exist. As London has altered and changed over the years, the members of the community have needed to adapt with it. There is even detail about what happens to those that get too old to live on the roofs anymore.
The novels climax is truly spectacular and the use of a famous London landmark is the icing on the cake. I have always maintained, and still do, that this would make a great piece of cinema. It has everything that you could ever want from a thriller. The novel only covers a period of nine days but in that time, the action is non-stop.
It’s scary to think that I last read the novel over twenty years ago. The good news is that the story has aged well, and with the exception of couple of minor references to out of date computer technology, everything still feels as fresh is did two decades ago. Fowler’s social commentary on the homeless and dispossessed that existed in London in the Eighties is as relevant today as it was then. If you have never read Roofworld I suggest you check it out.