What Are The Best London Novels? The Results

By M@ Last edited 13 months ago
What Are The Best London Novels? The Results

We asked you to nominate your favourite novels set in (or partly set in) the capital. You suggested more than 100 books, from Victorian classics to the recently published. Here's where the votes went:

The top 10

1. Rivers of London series, Ben Aaronovitch (91 votes).

Our runaway winner is this ongoing series of novels about a unit of the Metropolitan Police with magical powers.

As we highlighted in our review of the first book in the series, the author is particularly good at setting key scenes in real London locations. Throw in a family of water nymphs representing the lost rivers of London, and you have the perfect fiction for London geeks — and everyone else. All nominations here were for the series, rather than an individual title.

2. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (38 votes). More magical realism in this now classic tale of a peculiar London beneath the streets that we know.

3. London, Edward Rutherford (35 votes). At around 1,000 pages long, this is epic storytelling, charting the course of several London families from ancient times up to the modern day. So good that we've read the whole mighty tome twice through.

4. Bryant and May series, Christopher Fowler (17 votes). Fans of Ben Aaronovitch should also try this series, which chronicles the adventures of two octogenarian detectives from the Peculiar Crimes Unit, as they investigate the capital's strangest crimes.

Yup, we're big fans.

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (16 votes). Wilde's only novel has been adapted countless times for stage and screen. It was commissioned at a meeting in the Langham Hotel in 1889, which also led to Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes story. Speaking of which...

6. Sherlock Holmes series, Arthur Conan Doyle (15 votes). The Holmes canon contains many short stories and four novels, but nearly all votes went to the collection as a whole.

7. Oliver Twist (14 votes). Perhaps the best-known Dickens novel charts the highest. We've considered Dickens's novels individually. However, 'all of Dickens', or comparable phrases, got 16 votes.

(Were we to momentarily pretend that Dickens's novels constitute a series, like Sherlock Holmes, the author would have 51 votes, putting him in second place. But they don't, so we won't.)

8. London Belongs To Me, Norman Collins (13 votes). An upbeat Dickens-style character-led soap opera about life on a Kennington street in the build up to war.

9. William Monk series, Anne Perry (12 votes). With more than 20 novels in the series, these books about a Victorian policeman-cum-PI is giving Sherlock a run for his money. Perry's parallel Pitt series is even longer, and also garnered several votes.

10. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (10 votes). The perennial favourite is hard to pin down in a two-sentence precis. 'Posh lady prepares for party while broken war veteran deteriorates' hardly does it justice. Few novels have captured London so evocatively at a specific period (here just after the First World War).

How does this compare to five years ago?

We ran a similar poll in 2010, with very different results.

Only Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (then, as now, at number two) and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway have maintained a place in the top 10. Many other much-cherished classics, such as Hangover Square and London Fields, have now dropped away into the second tier (see below).

Previous winners The Borribles did not get a single nomination this time round, reinforcing our suspicions that their fan club rigged the vote last time.

Another similarity between the two polls is the almost total absence of JG Ballard (only one nomination this time, and last time), and a poor look-in for Alan Moore's masterpiece From Hell.

Other novels with multiple nominations

Readers nominated well over 100 novels, or series of novels. Rather than list them all below, we present those books with five or more nominations, as a kind of second tier.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (9 votes)
A Christmas Carol
, Charles Dickens (8 votes)
Hangover Square
, Patrick Hamilton (8 votes)
Saturday, Ian McEwan (8 votes)
Capital, John Lanchester (7 votes)
Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (7 votes)
London Falling, Paul Cornell (7 votes)
Book of Dave, Will Self (6 votes)
Harry Potter series, JK Rowling (6 votes)
Sarah Waters' novels (6 votes)*
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett (6 votes)
20,000 Streets Under The Sky, Patrick Hamilton (5 votes)
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene (5 votes)
Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd (5 votes)
The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (5 votes)
London Fields, Martin Amis (5 votes)
Murphy, Samuel Beckett (5 votes)
Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd (5 votes)
Roofworld, Christopher Fowler (5 votes)

*Several of Waters's titles were individually nominated, but none got five or more nods. Six votes were cast for her novels as a set.

See also: the best non-fiction books about London, as voted for by readers.

Last Updated 17 March 2017

Christopher Fowler

'King Dido' by Alexander Baron should be in there, but great to see 'London Belongs To Me' made it. Er, and nice to see my books in!

Tom Bolton

I've only just spotted this, so didn't vote. I would definitely have voted for both From Hell and Ballard (Crash). Also King of the City by Michael Moorcock, Fowler's End by Gerald Kersh, A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison, Children of the Ghetto by Israel Zangwill and Derek Raymond's Factory Books. As Chris Fowler says, King Dido too. And wot no Iain Sinclair? Downriver, surely!

James Guppy

These are the favourite novels of your readers...probably not wise to equate that with the best novels.
Shame Ballard didn't get more votes. Nothing by Iain Sinclair either.

Rob Smith

Great to see Mrs Dalloway still in the Top 10. A book that is able to show London from multiple perspectives just really sums London up. We all share the same city but we see it from different viewpoints

Julie Green

I wrote a list out, forgot to post it and now can't find it or remember all its content! But Neverwhere was there, and London Belongs to Me (which is set in Kennington by the way - typo!). I would also include Israel Zangwill (probably Children of the Ghetto) and Andrea Levy's A Small Island.

Footprints of London

Maybe we will be talking about one of your favourite London novels in the Literary Footprints Festival http://footprintsoflondon.com/... - starts on October 8th

Heather Richardson

'London Belongs to Me' is about Kennington, not Kensington - I've actually just finished it, fantastic novel.

Simon M

What about??

The Tiger in the Smoke by Marjory Allingham
Colin MacIinnes' London trilogy
Mother London by Michael Moorcock

snail flail

G.K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Tom Bolton

Just remembered The Lonely Londoners. That's an excellent book.

Jamie McKay-Haynes

Mother London and/or King of the City by Michael Moorcock, Mortal Engines Quartet by Philip Reeve, From Hell by Moore and Campbell, Smith by Leon Garfield, and a fair few others that I can't quite recall…


Also surprised that Terry Pratchett's 'Dodger' didn't make the list.

Patrycja Polczyk

Yay, so cool Rivers of London is at the top! Love those books!

Clunking Fist

King Solomon's Carpet, Barbara Vine. Very UndergrounD-y