Poison City Book Review

Poison City Book Review

What is this about?: Gideon Tau’s search for his daughter’s kill in Durban, South Africa. It just so happens to involve the supernatural, physical manifestations of the city, vampires, angels and one very pissed boss. It’s funny, exciting and heartbreaking too by the ending.

What else is this about?: It’s the first in a series, so it deftly sets up the world and London’s character within it. Excellent worldbuilding does not falter even as Crilley delves into London, Dog and his Armitage.

Stars: 4/5. Drop everything and read this, seriously!

Blurb: The name’s Gideon Tau, but everyone just calls me London. I work for the Delphic Division, the occult investigative unit of the South African Police Service. My life revolves around two things – finding out who killed my daughter and imagining what I’m going to do to the bastard when I catch him.

I have two friends. The first is my boss, Armitage, a fifty-something DCI from Yorkshire who looks more like someone’s mother than a cop. Don’t let that fool you. The second is the dog, my magical spirit guide. He talks, he watches TV all day, and he’s a mean drunk.

Life is pretty routine – I solve crimes, I search for my daughter’s killer. Wash, rinse, repeat. Until the day I’m called out to the murder of a ramanga – a low-key vampire – basically, the tabloid journalist of the vampire world. It looks like an open and shut case. There’s even CCTV footage of the killer.

Except… the face on the CCTV footage? It’s the face of the man who killed my daughter. I’m about to face a tough choice. Catch her killer or save the world? I can’t do both.

It’s not looking good for the world.

Poison City is the first in a fantastical new series for fans of Ben Aaronovitch, Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and Stephen King.

Poison City is the kind of story that leaves me breathless, like I’ve been running to keep up with the pace of the writing and just when I think I’ve caught up, naturally it ends. This is that sort of ride.

When I first heard of the book I was absolutely fascinated by it because it’s set in the city I grew up in, in the country I lived until I was 18: Durban, South Africa. I’ve never read an urban fantasy set in either place, and that is really a testament to the fact that I need to start paying far more attention to the genre (and crime) writers there.

This story is filled names I know and places I know too – or rather knew once since it’s been 20-somewhat years since I left. The country and the literature have changed since them, though I still keep part of it in a time capsule in my head. Poison City is something else altogether.

It busts out from the first page, pulling you into the investigations of one Gideon Tau AKA London, his magic guide, who happens to be a dog (and not a guide dog) called Dog, and his work with the supernatural investigative force, Delphic Division, in South Africa. We meet Armitage, his boss and friend, who has no qualms calling him on his bullshit, even when he resurrects her after she dies. London isn’t a mage – his title keeps changing because the South African government keeps changing what they should call magic and magic users.

Crilley weaves a massive tale of God and Lucifer, sins and sin eaters and brings all the of the fantasy worlds you’re used to right into the heart of Durban. Cities take form and the sea herself is London’s ally (of sorts). There are vampires and angels working against London as they try to bring about the end of the world and protect their secrets respectively.

The author is brutal in his writing, gory even but those scenes are short and over quickly. Crilley’s worldbuilding is stellar, and immense and beautiful in the detail he gives it all, before he ties his plot threads together in the end. I think he succeeds because all of this revolves around London’s very human  desire for revenge, for justice for the death of his daughter, before London realises just how much bigger than that his investigation is.

His desire for revenge seems is going to be a long-term arc for this series, and Crilley is an author who is unafraid to be cruel to his characters. Case in point: what he does to London by the end of the book. But, that’s what makes this book so compelling: London does the wrong thing and pays for it with the one thing he holds dear. He’s alive by the end, don’t worry, because his life isn’t what he holds most dear.

The writing itself is sharply, laugh out loud funny and filled to the brim with snark. But, London’s world-weary tone makes the snark work – I don’t know about you, but snark doesn’t always work for me. Some books have characters that sound like they’re trying very hard to be snarky, and it’s obvious, while others want to be funny and are just snarky. I think Poison City handles a balance of humour and snark brilliantly. The Dog (yes, that’s caps) makes it work too, the snark I mean, as he’s trying to help London or berating him for not getting the booze he wanted on the way home.

This book is a must-read for anyone who loves worldbuilding, and a skilled author who can handle a variety of characters, making them all distinct and unqiue, no matter how short a time they might be around for. And, not to mention an author who is writes effortless snark and humour, even if the latter may be darker than usual.

And what is Poison City? Not what you think. Definitely not what I thought, but the answer Crilley gives is infinitely better.

I NEED book two. Why isn’t it out yet, WHY?

If you’re a fan of worldbuilding, dark humour Poison City should be top of your list!


  • I’m glad you loved this one so much! It’s always fun finding a book set somewhere you’ve lived or are familiar with. That’s great that it didn’t end up disappointing you after getting you all excited about that. And a dog named Dog. Lol.

  • Kelly says:

    Ooh, this sounds brilliant Verushka, I love a dark, compelling read. I didn’t know that you grew up in South Africa, was it a culture shock when you migrated to Australia? I love books with humour, there’s not nearly enough of them around that blend sarcasm with an incredible storyline. Pity about the cover though, I would have expected something a little darker that grabs your attention. Brilliant review Verushka, really enjoyed it <3

  • I see one of my favorite words – snark! I remember buying this from Book Depository when it was released because I couldn’t get it here in the US. I had seen a review or two and knew I must have it primarily because of an alcoholic dog that can communicate with the MC. I’m so glad you loved it and now I need to dig my copy out of the mess that is slowly becoming my library so I can read it!

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