Apr 112012
 

I really enjoyed Rivers of London, the first book in this series, and I had pretty high hopes for Moon over Soho, the second outing of DC Grant.  DC Peter Grant does for London Coppers what Dresden did for Chicago Private Investigators.  In Rivers of London Grant discovers that he’s got hidden talents of the magical variety, luckily for him, there’s a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that covers that kind of thing.  However, it turns out it’s a one man band, so when DC Peter Grant joins he doubles the size of the entire department.

Moon over Soho picks up a short while after the first book and deals with the repercussions of the case DC Grant solved.  However, our protagonist doesn’t have to wait long before he’s involved in a new investigation, and the continued development of a case that started in the previous book.  I do like the way Ben Aaronovitch ties the books together, these are clearly part of a broader story.  However, despite that, and despite the case being quite interesting – I really struggled through the first two thirds of Moon over Soho (well, perhaps 3/5ths).

The case revolves around mysteriously dying Jazz musicians, and as well as having quite a sluggish pace, DC Grant fails early on to spot the massive white elephant in the room.  It’s sometimes okay for authors to pretend their protagonists are dumb, and sometimes it’s enjoyable for readers to shout ‘he’s behind you’, but DC Grant isn’t stupid.  It felt entirely out of character that he didn’t spot the critically important elements in the investigation, where-as the writing made it entirely obvious to the reader.  I’m skirting the subject, because I don’t want to spoil the book too much if you do read it, but essentially within a few moments of meeting a key witness in the case, it was obvious to me what was going on.

Not the fine detail, that gets worked out at the end (more on that in a bit), but certainly the broad brush-strokes of what was happening.  I took no pleasure in finding out I was right, and I didn’t enjoy watching Peter stumble around building up a picture of something that should have been crying out at him very early on.  Either Ben didn’t realise readers would pick up on it so easily, or he had hoped to introduce some element of feeling worried for Peter.  Sadly, I just spent most of the first part of the book being angry.  It felt like Aaronovitch was using Peter’s stupidity or blindness as a plot device.

However, I stuck with it, the rest of the case is still engaging, the dialogue and writing is still witty, and in general, there was enough to keep me interested and carry me through to the final third of the book.  Which is a pretty good thing, because that’s where Ben hit his stride and the story really gets going.  As with the first book there are really 2 or 3 cases going on here at once, and Peter slides between them as required.  When the pace begins to accelerate in the later section, we see some characters in a new light, get to experience some truly powerful magical demonstrations and watch DC Grant cause untold mayhem (again).

I like the introduction of real Police behaviour in this book (and the last), and it’s good to see that being blended with the magic, rather than just ignored because it’s inconvenient.  Overall Moon over Soho was worth the effort, there’s some character progression, further twists to the overall story arc, and enough laughs, smiles and chuckles to get through the pain.

The book ends as it starts, with Lesley, and a startling revelation.  Hopefully the third book will be more consistent, and show more respect for the ability of the main character.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Mar 012012
 

Over the last few days I picked up and put down two or three books from Grete’s insane to-read pile, reading the first 10 or 15 pages, trying to find something to peak my interest. I tried a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of fantasy and even some survival horror. However, it took only six pages of Rivers of London to know that I was hooked and that this was the lucky winner in the ‘what will Tony read next’ competition.

Ben’s writing is engaging, clear and easy to read.  His characters are rich from the outset and get more complex as the story goes on, and his take on London Urban Fantasy (should be a sub-genre in its own right) is both unique and compelling.

The book is populated by solid, realistic British coppers, and if Ben hasn’t worked for the police it would seem he certainly has someone on the inside (or, he’s good at research, but that didn’t sound as exciting).  The police procedure elements of the story were interesting and provide a good backdrop to the drama.  They ground the tale in a believable reality, despite the very rapid introduction of ghosts, wizards and other mythical beings.

Our main protagonist, Constable Peter Grant, discovers very early on that he can see ghosts and sense magic, which is just about all that saves him from a life stuck pushing paper around in the worst part of the police force.  He, his friend and fellow copper Lesley May and England’s Last Wizard, Inspector Nightingale, embark on a dangerous murder investigation where the felon is clearly not playing by the same rules.

Although the introduction of magic and ghosts happens quickly, Ben doesn’t dwell on people accepting or disbelieving it all.  Instead, we get a stoic acceptance that this kind of thing goes on, and if it goes on, it has to be handled, and if it’s going to be handled, then the Constabulary should be the people to handle it.

The pace is solid, and builds nicely towards the end.  There are really two stories going on here, the crime that Peter and Nightingale investigate, but also, the topic the book title alludes to.  The involvement of modern day living representations of the rivers of London is unique and one of the things that sets this book apart from what could have been a pastiche of Felix Castor or Harry Dresden.

Throughout the tale we are given hints of a dark past for magic and an agreement, and hence room to grow the back story.  We also get clear hints that Inspector Nightingale is more than he appears to be.  We barely scratch the surface of the mystery of the Folly and its even more mysterious maid, Molly.

Added to all of this, Ben Aaronovitch clearly doesn’t shirk away from putting his major characters at risk, and I’ll say no more than that so as not to spoil anything.

I described this book on twitter as “like blancmange with a severed finger in it – light and fluffy but filled with gore“.  The scenes are vivid, the magic is believable, the characters are engaging, rich and well thought out, and there are some really clever scenes.  Rivers of London is a superb example of what urban fantasy is all about.  You will not be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★¼ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)