Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London

Ben Aaronovitch has been beavering away about PC Peter Grant for four books, or about three or four years without me picking any of them up, but a couple of weeks back a friend suggested I'd like them. Hmmm, I thought to myself. I haven't had a lot of luck being impressed by modern urban fantasy, but most of his suggestions have been at least readable, so I chanced one.

Rivers of London is surprisingly solid stuff. Aaronovitch isn't a sparkling writer, but he has a good easy style that gives a strong sense of his narrator as a person. And his characters have a bit of dimensionality to them, for all that they're essentially magicked up copper stereotypes. It's always a good test of characters in series of books if you end the book wanting to know more about them; where they came from, where they're going. As Rivers of London was drawing to a close, I found myself wondering what Thomas Nightingale's background was, and whether Leslie May would be showing up in the next book.

I also liked the magic; it's never clear why it works, but it's equally puzzling to the characters, and it's limited in a very satisfying way. The most puzzling thing of all, however, is how Aaronovitch sounds so convincing about police minutiae. Grant is a wonderfully disillusioned guide to the London Met; I've no idea whether it's all made up or not, but it sounds right; it sounds lived-through. The asides feel like the kind of thing someone would remember in mid-sentence as a thing an ordinary listener wouldn't already know. 

The plot's neither here nor there; it's the standard police procedural approach of having two plots running side by side and not quite intertwining. On one side, the spirit of Punch is wreaking havoc through the west end, and on the other hand the various river spirits of London are having a feud over which of the two competing spirits of the Thames is the boss. Neither really sets the page on fire, but that's not the point. In serialised police procedurals, the beginning is about putting out the pieces and establishing at the least the basic rules. It's the job of the first book to make you interested enough in the people and the milieu that you'll buy another one, and then another. And I've bought the second, so I think Aaronovitch has proved his point.

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