Posts Tagged ‘The Faceless Man’

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 It’s a funny thing about series. What is original and unique can become familiar and even – dare I say it? – stale as a series goes on. They become perhaps over-thought or overworked like a piece of dough that’s had the life kneaded out of it.

I wonder whether that’s what has happened with this book.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series up to this point. The genii loci of the rivers of London created a mythic and original take on London; the Faceless Man was a formidably distant and shadowy nemesis; Nightingale was enigmatic; Grant himself was engaging and a pleasant narrative voice. Foxglove Summer, which bravely took Grant out of London, worked brilliantly by keeping a freshness which the return to London in The Hanging Tree seemed to lose.  

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a good book in that slightly niche fantasy detective genre. It was just a little familiar and tired.

In this book, Grant is called in to what appears to be a drug overdose which implicates one of Lady Tyburn’s daughters – Olivia Jane McAlliste-Thames – as the supplier of those drugs. A convoluted series of plot twists involving a lost Principia by Newton dealing with alchemy brings in the newly reconstructed Lesley May and the Faceless Man who is eventually in this book unmasked but who, as usual, escapes in the end.

As usual, there are a couple of nice set pieces; Nightingale again exudes the potential for massive power but is never seen doing it; there’s the usual credible police procedures. And it was all decent enough. But familiar. A little bit by-the-numbers.

The other thing that really irked me was that Peter Grant frequently did things with other people and always uses the “Beverley and me …” subject construction. Always. I think without exception. Maybe I’m getting old and I know it’s to create a voice but it irked.

I will still follow the series through to the end: I am that invested in the characters. But I hope there’s some more joy and life in the next one.

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!