Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

>> Saturday, June 16, 2012

TITLE: Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot in the US)
AUTHOR: Ben Aaronovitch

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Urban Fantasy
SERIES: Starts the Rivers of London series

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Peter Grant is a probationary constable about to get his first proper assignment in the London Metropolitan Police. He'd be the first to agree that he's not the perfect cop (too easily distracted when he finds something interesting), but he's still not happy about being assigned to the Case Progression Unit ("we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to", as he puts it).

But when he discovers he can see ghosts, at the scene of a bizarre beheading near Covent Garden, it turns out there's another career path open to Peter: that of apprentice to the wizard who makes up the only police unit dealing with the paranormal. Because to investigate the wave of strange and bloody murders taking place all over London, of which the beheading was only the start, as well as dealing with all sorts of gods and goddesses and other supernatural entities, Peter's fascination with details and ability to consider what isn't there to others, is an asset.

There is a lot to like here. Aaronovitch creates a very original and intrincate world, one that I've never seen before and that feels fun and really atmospheric. The river goddesses and gods, especially, were brilliant, just the right combination of normal, modern people and eerie inhumanity to be funny, and yet ring true. I never knew what Aaronovitch was going to come up with next, and that was fantastic.

I also liked... no, loved Peter. He's a really great narrator. I especially liked his sense of humour, it's very deadpan and witty, and I also liked how that carried over to his attitude to all the extremely weird things suddenly happening all around him. He not only does not freak out, he takes it all in stride and starts applying the logic that made him enjoy science as a schoolboy to his supernatural work. He could have felt maybe a little too unflappable, but I was fine with this, because there were plenty of moments where you realised that he had doubts about what to do and about whether he could handle things.

I also liked that Peter had an immigrant family background (his mum is from Sierra Leone), and the way Aaronovitch handled that and the fact that he's mixed-race. It's not the focus of the story: Peter is not a mixed-race detective, he's a detective who happens to be mixed-race, if that makes sense. It's something that makes him who he is, though, in subtle and interesting ways.

So, as I said, lots to like. Unfortunately, I didn't unreservedly love the book. Much as I loved Peter, I thought all the other characters were a lot harder to care for. It's strange, because Peter quite obviously cares for some of them (like Leslie, his friend and fellow probationary constable, as the book starts), but even though we're in his head all through the book, Aaronovitch didn't succeed in making me care. There is also a little bit of a romance thread introduced, but that felt fairly ineptly done, and never goes anywhere, which was frustrating.

The most frustrating element, however, was the police procedural aspect. Now, I loved the idea of having something that's very much a police procedural, but in this new world. However, I didn't feel that was completely successful, mainly because the logic of the investigation sometimes came across as a bit muddled. Part of it was that Peter's plans are sometimes kept hidden from the reader (even though he's the narrator), to generate a bit of suspense, I guess, which is fair enough, but it was more than that. A lot was about how certain deductions were made, when, to me, the evidence wasn't really there. And even now that I've finished the book, I've still got a lot of unanswered questions, especially about the villain's motivations and how certain things worked. Either I'm stupid and missed the obvious, or there's something missing. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me in a satisfying way.

Still, I'm very glad I read this, and I will probably read the next book in the series.



Darlynne,  20 June 2012 at 16:54  

I'm trying to think of another new character I enjoyed as much as Peter and can't. He manages to be both an inexperienced newbie and a thoughtful, intelligent partner. I love that his background is more wide-ranging than we frequently find in crime fiction and thought that well done on the author's part.

Unexpectedly, I really enjoyed DCI Nightingale's housekeeper, whose name escapes me. She is definitely an interesting character and I hope we see more of her.

I liked the resolution of the rivers' conflict, the mythology and that nothing was tied up too neatly. My hopes are quite high for the next.

Rosario 21 June 2012 at 06:53  

Definitely a promising character. And I agree, the housekeeper, Molly, was really intriguing. I'm sure we'll see quite a lot more of her in the future... maybe she'll even speak! :-)

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