Broken Homes is the fourth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. I’m not sure if he’s actually using that series name, but Amazon and various other sites are, so I guess I will. It could equally be called the fourth DC Grant book, which is probably more accurate. Although the Rivers certainly make appearances in each of the books, their influence wanes and waxes, where Peter Grant is the central character.
The series is essentially a supernatural police procedural, with DC Grant forming a third of the police unit within the Met that investigates ‘weird stuff’, along with Nightingale (his boss) and Lesley, his ‘it’s complicated’ friend and colleague. The Folly, which is their base of operations is home to them, a dog, and Molly, a slightly sinister housekeeper. It’s best not to argue with Molly in case she eats you.
The rest of the cast is made up of normal police officers (normal in the sense that they aren’t magical, their personalities are often far from average), a range of magical and non-magical bad guys, various supernatural entities who may or may not be goblins, river spirits, gods and demons and a sinister arch-nemesis, the Faceless Man.
It’s common in Urban Fantasy for there to be something to investigate, a long running arc which may or may not be linked, and one or two other weird things going on which all magically come together at the end, and Ben’s approach is no different. The story starts with a mixture of crimes, not all of them obviously related, and an ongoing investigation in the identity of the Faceless Man. As the tale progresses, links appear to start to form and as Peter digs deeper and deeper, both the danger and the connections increase.
Eventually, things explode at the end, with dramatic and tragic consequences.
I was surprised how little magic there was in the third book of the series, given the focus in the first two was more aimed at the supernatural side of the world. Book four makes a return to that focus, with plenty of police work, but equally significant amounts of mystical and magical actions. There’s an excellent section with the most obvious and overt use of magical power in the series so far, where Nightingale finally gets to let rip, and this alone would be reason to read the book.
The pace is well judged, and the story builds tension throughout, I was constantly expecting things to go south but when they finally did, I was surprised at the direction it took. On reflection, I shouldn’t have been – which is always a good sign. The hints were there, and in the back of my mind I’d formed the connections, but it wasn’t until I read the words that it all clicked in to place.
Ben’s characters are so very real; they leap from the page. The dialogue is simply sublime, and he doesn’t pull any punches to make his characters softer or more likeable. His use of a strongly mixed race and mixed gender cast is second to none in the urban fantasy arena; although he uses those racial and gender differences in the story, they are well blended, sensible and useful, rather than merely being there to tick boxes.
It’s not all perfect however. Sometimes the book feels like a series of events strung together, which of course most books are, and yet with Ben’s I can sometimes see the joins. It’s not a serious issue, the dialogue and the plot eventually win out, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why it feels like this, but it’s not as smooth as say Dresden or the Felix Castor series, both of which are similar in style to Rivers of London. There was a lengthy section in the book about the Rivers of London celebrating the arrival of spring, which was sort of interesting but I’m not sure it drove the story forward at all, and I could have lived without it.
Those two minor points aside, Broken Homes is back on par with the first book in the series. It was enjoyable, easy to read, gripping and exciting. It’s left me looking forward to the fifth book, and there’s not much wrong with that.