The ‘Rivers of London’ series, by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho Whispers Under Ground Broken Homes Foxglove Summer

The rolling news networks loved the idea of a shadowy network of camps. It gave them hours of talking heads and a chance to stick a body from Migration Watch or UKIP up against a government spokesman or, even better, from someone from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in the hope that they would both kill and eat each other live on air.

I reviewed Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot a few inches down the page. I decided to pick up the next book in the Rivers of London Series, and before I knew it I was hopelessly caught up in these infectious books, which aren’t even in my usual line.

The hero and narrator is Peter Grant, a young London police detective. By good (or not) fortune, he has found himself attached to a shadowy unit of the Metropolitan Police whose name keeps changing, but which deals with supernatural crimes. The sole member of this unit, up until Peter’s arrival, was Inspector Nightingale (a somewhat Doctor Whovian character, which is no surprise since author Aaronovitch used to write for that BBC series). Later they are joined by Leslie May, a young female constable who trained with Peter and is his best friend. They operate out of “The Folly,” a large estate in London.

The second book, Moon Over Soho, concerns a string of mysterious deaths of jazz musicians in London. Peter’s investigations are assisted (sort of) by his father, a recovering drug addict who is also a near-legend jazz trumpeter. This story brings Peter face to face (so to speak) with The Faceless Man, a rogue magician and a continuing villain in the series.

In the third book, Whispers Under Ground, a young American art student is stabbed to death in the London underground (that’s a subway to you). The hunt eventually leads to a secret race of underground dwellers, and Peter nearly dies in a cave-in.

Broken Homes gives author Aaronovitch (who seems to have definite views on architecture, with which I generally concur) the opportunity to comment on postmodern building design when he and Lesley move into a famous “brutalist” housing development in order to solve some murders, but discover a much larger and more terrible magical plot.

The last of the series published so far is Foxglove Summer, where Peter is called out of his comfort zone to investigate the disappearance of two young girls in the county of Herefordshire. Abduction by the fairies seems an unlikely possibility… but of course that’s what it is.

I don’t generally care much for urban fantasy, but Aaronovitch has gotten past my defenses by embedding his magic in some pretty good (or at least plausible) police procedural stuff. Also Peter is a witty narrator, a very likeable character finding his way, with many a pratfall, in a strange world. Many Christians will reject these books because they deal with magic, and if you’re absolutist on that point you should probably stay away. But the issue of God and Satan is ignored pretty much entirely here. Magic is treated as a sort of science, just one humans can’t explain. Most of the supernatural characters encountered are human beings, or their descendants, who have somehow been taken up into magical power, thus not demons by the standards of this fictional world.

Another thing I liked very much is how the issue of race is handled. Peter is a man of mixed race, but his ethnicity doesn’t define him. He thinks of himself primarily as a Londoner, and the history and traditions of his city matter a lot to him. He encounters prejudice from time to time, but he gives it no more notice than it deserves. He recognizes the bigots as either ignorant or marginal, and they have no power over him.

Of course it must be admitted that these books (which must be destined for a BBC series) occur in what might be called “TV World,” where all criminals are white and all Muslims are good citizens (the chief Muslim in the books is actually a Scottish convert. Apparently Calvinism wasn’t legalistic enough for him). Still I thought this series took an enlightened and positive approach to the real problem.

I consumed these books one after another, like peanuts. I think you’ll like them too, unless they offend you by their very nature. Cautions for language, occult situations, and some sex. Homosexuality shows up in a matter-of-fact way, but there’s no preaching about it.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Rivers of London’ series, by Ben Aaronovitch”

  1. When you mention architecture I am reminded of living in London back in the 80’s when Prince Charles caused quite a brouhaha by saying something to the effect of modern architects doing more damage to London than the Luftwaffe ever did.

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