Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London & Moon over Soho

Jul 31, 2016

I usually shy away from reading a series of books in a quick succession. The reason is two fold. In the first place, if I read the whole series in one run, I don’t get to enjoy it for very long. Secondly, you get sick of too much of anything, even of a good thing; you start looking at the problems, counting down pages, and the pleasure of reading turns into a chore of finishing.

However, I was recommended Moon over Soho as a great read (plus it appeared on The Incomparable). I searched for the book in the public library catalogue and rejoiced that it was available in English and immediately submitted my reservation. Then I was told it’s the book number two in a series, the first being Rivers of London. Naturally, I went back and checked for the first book. It was available as well and rather than cancelling the former reservation, I made a (teeny tiny) leap of faith and picked up both books.

I don’t regret it — Peter Grant series is fun! It is an urban fantasy police procedural in contemporary London. Think Neverwhere for adults, less grimm than The City & The City, mixed with absurd rule following approach of Sgt Angel from Hot Fuzz, delivered with the traditional British sense of humour.

The rise and fall of Theresa Cornelys proves three things: that the wages of sin are high, that you should ‘just say no’ to opera, and that it’s always wise to diversify your investment portfolio. This was the advice followed by Gabriella Rossi, also Italian, who arrived in London as a child refugee in 1948. After a career in the rag trade, she opened her first branch of A Glimpse of Stocking in 1986, where she profited from the wages of sin, albeit tastefully, said no to opera, and made sure that her portfolio was suitably robust. When she died in 2003 it was as Dame Rossi, knighted for her services to naughtiness and leaving behind a small chain of lingerie shops. Ben Aaronovith: Moon over Soho

Aaronovith created very lively characters, both human and supernatural. The most nuanced is the main protagonist, Peter Grant, a young policeman who just finished mandatory period as a patrol officer and is hoping for a “real” detective assignment. Instead, he’s recruited into a secret police unit, The Folly, tasked with keeping peace with the supernatural forces. It is a common motive, but Peter Grant brings into it a perspective of a decent cop who is used to observing and taking notes all the time. The other characters include his crush and police academy mate Leslie, his new boss Nightingale (he seems to be quite a hottie and eventually turns out to even be from history), a supernatural house keeper, and the goddess of Thames with her court.

The plot itself is rather strange and not the best part of the book. When I finished and tried to think back to what actually happened, it was rather hard to piece it together. Some of the transitions are weak and convoluted, but they are outweighed by the witty dialogs (and internal monologues) and character interactions.

“Beside we have Dunlop’s books, so we know his teacher wasn’t from some foreign tradition - this is a home-grown black magician.” “You can’t call them black magicians,” I said. “You realise that we’re using ‘black’ in its metaphorical sense here,” said Nightingale. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Words change what they mean, don’t they? Some people would call me a black magician.” “You’re not a magician,” he said. “You’re barely even an apprentice.” “You’re changing the subject,” I said. “What should we call them?” he asked patiently. “Ethnically challenged magical practitioners,” I said. Ben Aaronovith: Moon over Soho

Moon over Soho brings a more cohesive plot including jazz vampires, quite a lot of action, and hints of things to come. Still, everyone is reading it for the dialogues, not for the story itself.

I’m really looking forward to the next book, but I’ll make sure to let it sit for a while so I can savor the anticipation.

I was still in my uniform, which would have made drinking in a pub a bit of a problem, so I grabbed a coffee at the Italian place on Frith Street before proceeding at a leisurely pace up Old Compton Street. I was just thinking of picking up some cakes from Patisserie Valerie when my highly tuned copper’s senses were irresistibly drawn, like those of a big-game hunter, by the subtle clues that something was amiss in Dean Street. Plus the police tape, the forensics tent and the unformed bodies who’d been given the exciting task of guarding the crime scene.