Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the London Metropolitan Police, but his career doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Until one night when he is canvassing witnesses after a violent attack and manages to take a statement from a ghost… As some bizarre elements of the attack come to light, Peter finds his calling in life – he becomes a Detective Constable and the first apprentice wizard in fifty years, assigned to DCI Nightingale of the Folly. It seems there is an underside to London that no one ever sees – but things are starting to get out of control.
Apart from brokering a peace between Mother Thames and Father Thames, Peter finds himself up against a malevolent spirit, determined to cause mayhem throughout the city. But when Nightingale is taken out of the picture, can one man stand alone against chaos itself?
I’ve seen a lot of glowing reviews of this one recently, and I’ve been meaning to take a look at it. Partly because it seemed to be something different, partly because I became aware recently that I’ve read a grand total of ONE new author to me so far this year, and partly because the Bryant & May novels by Christopher Fowler have perked my interest in anything with a “secret history of London” vibe. Oh, and because Ben Aaronovitch wrote one of my favourite ever Doctor Who stories way back when. Remembrance of the Daleks – the one where you realised just how good Sylvester McCoy could be with the right script…
But I digress – this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read some of the author’s Doctor Who novels before now – The Also People, for example – and come up against a brick wall. It was proper sci-fi, you see, not monsters and corridors, and wasn’t my cup of tea. Lots of people loved it though, so I was a little wary of this one for that reason.
I shouldn’t have been. It’s a great read.
It probably leans more in the direction of thriller, rather than classic mystery. There is a mystery element to it, but to say more would be to spoil an important aspect of the book. And while we’re talking about that, it’s probably important to read this series in order – the sneak preview of chapter one of the next book gives away important bits from the denouement of this one.
More importantly, you can see Aaronovitch is building a world here. The notion of magic and science existing side by side is something he has clearly thought about carefully, along with the various inhabitants of London’s netherworld, and he wisely chooses to mostly just tease us with aspects of it. Whether it’s vampires, river spirits or the thing that drives the main plot, you still feel that you’re just scratching the surface. All of the characters have secrets and very few of them are revealed here. You can tell that the author is in this for the long run and the result is a rewarding read that has me wanting more already.
The central character of Peter Grant is a great creation – an engaging narrator who isn’t afraid to show his weaknesses but has an impressively determined side. The supporting cast is done well, especially given that the majority of them are yet to be fully developed.
If I had a niggle, it’s that it takes Grant and Nightingale about half the book to work out the pattern that the spirit is enacting – maybe it’s because I read another book concerning it very recently, but it seemed pretty obvious to me. But that’s a niggle, nothing more, and I’ll be back for Book Two, Moon Over Soho, soon. Highly Recommended.