If you like the idea of a policeman who uses magic, give Ben Aaronovitch’s series a try. If you loved Lindsey Davis’s Falco, the Marlowe-channelling detective from Ancient Rome, but want something a bit more contemporary, Peter Grant is your man. If you like the idea of a series that references Harry Potter characters as part of its world, and shows what London crime-fighting might be like if policemen could work spells, this is the series for you. If you like fast-reading, sharp-talking, lore-laying down the law about the ways a north London constable can learn to combat killer chimerae and sonic vampires in the heart of London, start with Rivers of London. In this, Peter Grant hears a ghost tell him whodunit, chases a deranged Mr Punch and nearly falls in the water with the daughters of Mama Thames. Never accept an offer of a drink or a biscuit from a goddess unless she’s promised you you’ll be able to leave. The mess that magic can make of a face is not the end of the world, or a career, but it’s a damn waste of Peter’s best mate’s sick leave.
In Moon over Soho, Peter’s jazz hero father comes out of retirement and Peter starts seeing a lot of Simone, a very active young woman with a keen interest in getting them both out of their clothes, marked by a disconcerting smell of honeysuckle. Inexplicable deaths of musicians around Soho seems to be connected to a nasty piece of body-warping magic that takes Peter and his governor to the Radcliffe Camera and back into Soho to track down the magicians who should never have been trained. This is a novel designed to test your knowledge of jazz, or simply bludgeon you into accepting that the author knows what he’s talking about.
In Whispers Under Ground the river goddesses give Peter trouble again, as does a very cryptic FBI agent sent to investigate the murder of a Senator’s son while emerging from the sewer with a chunk of pottery in his back. There’s a half-goblin and an earthbender getting involved in this novel too, but you’ll have to make up your own snappy assessment for this one because I haven’t finished Whispers Underground yet. It’s waiting on the table, I’m up to page 346, and I’ll get back to it just as soon as I’ve posted this review. I’ve pinched book no. 4, Broken Homes, from my husband’s reading pile so don’t tell him. I’ll buy the fifth novel, Foxglove Summer, when I get back from my travels at the end of May.
Aaronovitch’s writing is light and deceptively enticing, the perfect accompaniment to dull flights and packed waiting-rooms. The voice of Peter Grant, a London boy out of Sierra Leone and the Hendon police training college, is utterly persuasive. The biggest charm of these novels for me is their totally realistic depiction of multiracial and multicultural Londoners who might or might not have been to university, but don’t give a toss about it. Isn’t it great not to be bored catatonic by a middle-class novel of sex, shopping, dinner parties or house prices? You’ll never find Aaronovitch’s characters being foodies in Waitrose or reviewing each other’s documentaries in the Guardian. They’ll be down the market, up at the school, out clubbing, or just listening to music. The weirder ones will be down the floating market dealing in dodgy magical items. Black and brown faces, Greek and Tunisian names, are as routine and normal in this London as the Glaswegian accent of Dr Walid. The chalk-white face of Molly, the manga-faced and piranha-teethed housekeeper who cooks and cleans and irons like the demon she probably is, is different: she’s part of The Folly, the Metropolitan Police’s special department for what they colloquially refer to as ‘weird stuff’. Inspector Nightingale and Constable Grant (and also the fast-recovering Constable May, hurray) are the supernatural police, London’s finest alternative to Ghostbusters, and an addictive set of characters. Read them now, and have a great time.
Discover Ben Aaronovitch’s novels here.
Update from July 2015: Broken Homes blew me away, a dark story with an agonising ending episode that has a time-bomb cliffhanger that is simply cruelty to readers. Foxglove Summer is lighter, has a lot of skinny-dipping, and explains fairies properly, nasty creatures. (It’s good to see that Aaronovitch follows the Pratchett line on the Fae.) But, exciting news! Aaronovitch has created a Rivers Of London comic! Read my review here.