Posts Tagged ‘Aaronovitch’

I’ve been reading some weighty books recently. Miéville. Ali Smith. Haruki Murakami. All brilliant.

But sometimes, just sometimes, a slightly lighter read is called for: fun, engaging, escapist. And Aaronovitch delivers exactly that in his Peter Grant novels. An authentic police procedural with an engaging first person narrator whose wit is warm and genuine. With added magic.

Following Broken Homes which concluded with a face off between Grant and The Faceless Man and an unexpected and painful betrayal, Aaronovitch has given his embattled PC Grant a countryside break: the sinister Faceless Man arc is set aside almost entirely (save for a few hints setting up book six!) and we swap London for Herefordshire.

Peter Grant meets Midsomer Murders.

I was a little concerned by that. You know what it’s like when you take a set of characters that are closely related to a particular setting and give them a trip away. Only Fools And Horses in Spain. It usually doesn’t work.

This did though.

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Grant was as engaging as ever with witty one-liners such Nightingale’s refusal to memorise any police acronym which has not survived ten years. Beverly Brook joined Peter on Herefordshire which gave him the chance to develop their relationship, especially their physical relationship in the rustic setting. The new characters introduced for this stand-alone novel were pleasant enough although just a little two-dimensional.

The plot was, primarily, a straight forward police procedural: two girls had gone missing from a Herefordshire village and Peter Grant lends a hand, just in case the perpetrator is a fae creature or hedge wizard. We also get the chance chance to meet the retired wizard Hugh Oswald – from whom we hear a little more of Nightingale’s war record and from whom Nightingale acquire a definite article and becomes The Nightingale – and his grand-daughter Mellissa the etymology of whose name is significant and emphasises by the unnecessary double l. I wonder whether we’ll see them again.

And the magic in this one? It seemed a little downplayed and almost incidental until the final few chapters. Unicorns, changelings, faeryland and the Faery Queen all appear, albeit briefly but done well.

Overall, a really enjoyable read and a pleasant warm escapist holiday from December chill.

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This is the fourth in Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series – see previous blog posts for my thoughts on Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground.

There is a different feel to this book from the previous ones and, to my mind, a welcome change. There is a greater focus on the quest for The Faceless Man and less world-building. However intriguing Aaronovitch’s fantastical elements around and beneath London are, some of the earlier books felt as if they were written to put in place a concept which would be used later: the personified Rivers (which are still, for me, the imaginative heart of the novels), the fae, the Quiet People. With this fourth book, a greater pace and return of The Faceless Man was welcome.

This book opens with an arrest (normally the end of a police procedural) which, because of unexplained blood in the car, involves The Folly (the Metropolitan Police’s magical department) which is made up of Grant, his partner Lesley and his guv’nor Nightingale.

This investigation runs broadly parallel with the search for Varvara Sidorovna, a Russian Nochnye Koldunyi or Night Witch. Sidorovna was first seen in Whispers Under Ground as an undercover nurse but it’s only here that she reveals the extent of her magic. And it’s pretty formidable!

The plot lines all lead Peter and Lesley to Skygarden, a fictionalised complex of apartments and a central garden area in 1960s concrete. Skygarden is, in fact, such in integral image and plot device that Aaronovitch gives it it’s own locus genii, Sky the Dryad or Wood Nymph who, whilst immortal, ages annually with the year and, as the novel is set in Springtime, is capricious and childlike. And she just about stays on the right side of the capricious and childlike border without straying into the Jar-Jar Binks world of irritating. She is, actually, quite charming!

There is an incredible assurance in Aaronovitch’s writing and characters and I love Grant’s mixture of self-assurance, police procedure and human frailty. I think I have said before that there is some very convincing and authoritative in Aaronovitch’s depiction of the workings of the police: the close relationship, the tensions, the rivalries, the occasionally ridiculous procedures and acronyms. Small details, such as the distance behind which officers follow each other through a door just in case the first one trips over a skateboard.

Nightingale, though, is the heart of the novels: the folded steel core around which the other characters are decorative wood. Yes, that is a deliberate echo of Aaronovitch’s magical staff, which is another plot device to lure out The Faceless Man. Nightingale is the still centre of The Folly, radiating knowledge and power without demonstrating that much of it most of the time. He has similarities in that way with Doctor Who, a show that Aaronovitch has worked on and written for. I’m not going to give anything away, but we do witness (albeit from a crouching position, behind cover and from a significant distance) Nightingale in action in this novel. And he does not disappoint! The aftermath of the fight is perhaps a little clichéd and has a little too much of an eye on how it might look on a screen but it works well!

There is a massive twist at the end of the book and – whilst I was expecting something along those lines to happen – the speed of it did take me by surprise. I’d thought we might be putting things in place, perhaps for book five!

Personally, I think this was the most successful in a hugely enjoyable series! Can’t wait for the next one!

Jazz is cool.

It’s undeniable; it’s super cool. As a genre of music, it lurks in the back of the iPod in a smoke filled subterranean playlist. Jazz does not wear sunglasses; jazz is born with dark tinted irises. In a politically correct world, jazz sensuously drinks and smokes itself to a hospital bed where it still looks cool. And probably seduces the nurse, the consultant and the undertaker. Jazz is smart and intellectual and doesn’t care; and it is dirty and filthy and doesn’t care.

It’s also a genre of music I know little about.

Which made Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch’s second novel revolving around Peter Grant, the Met’s latest magic police officer, slightly intimidating. Because there’s an awful lot of jazz in it.

It’s not much of a problem, to be fair. I just wish I knew the artists and songs he mentions.

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Two plots interweave through the book.

Firstly, a series of jazz musicians die of apparently natural causes but, because of lingering vestigia – a sort of magical afterglow – Peter is called in. Secondly, a growing number of men die from exsanguination. Exsanguination following the biting off of their manhoods. Collective crossing of male legs. Even more disturbing is that the teeth which did the biting were not the usual horizontal facial kind: instead they were horizontally oriented and vaginally located. Every man’s Freudian nightmare!

Entwined with these plots is: a search for a mysterious and dangerous black magician; a budding love interest for Peter; more insights into Peter’s boss – the enigmatic Nightingale – and his background; and the aftermath of the previous book.

Aaronovitch gives himself a lot to do and – to be honest – it makes the book less satisfying than expected. There’s no real resolution: the black magician is encountered but not apprehended; the pale lady – she with the toothed front bottom – is rather speedily dispatched. The book feels like a bridge, converting the first book into a series by putting together the threads that will be developed later. It felt to me as if Aaronovitch had intended a series but the editors had doubts over its success and made him make edits so that it could have been a one-off. This book seems to be putting into place the pieces to set up the future books.

Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t a bad book! It’s a solid, paced read. It’s not the most intellectually challenging or linguistically sophisticated but it’s a good read. Two things impressed me most:

– Nightingale remains successfully impressive: hints of his life are given which are sufficient to make him formidable – his fireball destroyed a Tiger Tank in World War 2 and after the war he returned to his old school to carve his fallen schoolmates names into the wall; but controlled enough to remain mysterious.

– Lesley, his comrade, colleague and possible love interest from the first book who became temporarily possessed, returns. I had been expecting her return, but not that the facial injuries inflicted in the previous book could not be healed. I had expected her to have been back to normal with the Harry Potter style explanation: “oh it’s magic so that explains it all”. Instead her injuries remain so severe that she is unable even to speak at the start of the book; wears a face mask up until the final pages; and Peter is horrified when he finally sees it. There was a certain integrity and honesty in keeping her injuries extreme. And, from the final pages of the novel, it is clear she will become a very significant character in future novels.