London in Literature: Lockdown

Now, don’t get me wrong. I get that – considering what’s going on not only in London and the UK, but pretty much all over the world at the moment – this might be a bit of a dark choice. But hear me out. 

The London Peter May uses as his setting in Lockdown is one that is not only locked down, but instead is entirely changed from the one we know. The reason? A deadly virus and an epidemic. Emergency hospitals are being built and on one such building site (a not at all uncommon sight in London) the body of a dead girl is found (a hopefully somewhat less common sight). All construction has to be stopped – but time is of the essence. The longer a murderer isn’t found, the longer work has to be delayed. And people just won’t stop dying. 

Through the eyes of Detective Inspector Jack MacNeil we get to see the London he has to race across to solve the case. And, oh dear – a LOT has changed. It’s been split up into areas and neighbourhoods, protected and seal off from each other. Checkpoints have to be passed, with armed guards protecting the rich, and “getting rid” of everyone who is not wearing a mask or looks even the tiniest bit sick. Some parts (the ones dealing with the sick or – again – the areas where the rich and powerful have gathered) are almost impossible to get into. Which is a bit unfortunate, when you’re trying to solve a murder… 

But the worst thing? Underneath it all is still the London we all know and love. May describes places like Westminster, Piccadilly or Canary Wharf so detailed and exact (even down to houses, parks and street names) that you can see the bustling and full of life in front of your eyes. And yet – at least in this version of the city – the remain empty. 

Written by Fabian Jacob, bookseller from Germany


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