The Short Version: When a body turns up dead at Baker Street Station with some… weirdness about it, DC Grant and the team at the Folly are called in. And when the body turns out to be the son of a US Senator, the FBI shows up. All the while, the Faceless Man is out there – but there might be a whole lot more to London than even Nightingale knows…
The Review: I have, if you haven’t noticed, a soft spot for the magical mystery novel. Love me a good straight-up mystery, but throw some magic in? Aces.
As such, Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series (I have trouble calling it the Rivers of London series because the Rivers are definitely secondary characters) is, in a lot of ways, the ideal combination of things – because it is also British, both in setting and in tone.
I always have a little bit of a longing for London at the start of the new year and so it was nice to spend some time there, with a novel set appropriately at the holidays, to kick off 2015. And I found myself both a little surprised and a little grateful that Aaronovitch takes no time to catch up readers who’ve been away: he’s written a series that sticks around well enough that you don’t need it. Sure, it took me a minute to remember what the Strip Club of Dr. Moreau was (ohhhh that Strip Club of Dr. Moreau) and the particulars of Lesley’s face only came back to me when it was mentioned for the first time (relatively early on, but still) – but for the most part, I knew where we knew. Not only that, I knew the rules of magic in this universe: there’s a lot less talk about the ‘level one’ particulars of magic in this book, moving instead to a higher frame of reference. Not unlike Peter and his studies. In fact, it’s almost like we’re progressing with him a little bit – a nice feeling for a series and for a character.
This story doesn’t go too far into expanding the overarching Faceless Man plot (although he sort of hovers around the edges like a Blofeld-type figure) but instead expands the universe of the series – and considerably. When the characters you’ve been looking up to as knowledgeable suddenly realize they have some major gaps in their knowledge, there’s a fun sense of destabilization that occurs. The Rivers, Nightingale, pretty much everybody was in some way surprised about the Quiet People – and that makes you wonder, how much else do they not know about?
Unfortunately, the story is also kind of predictable. There are some scenes of grand adventure and hilarious wit (sometimes both all at once, like with the demon trap and its inscription in Tolkien’s Elvish: “If you can read this, you are a nerd and also probably dead.”) but once we started to put together the pieces of the death, it was all… I don’t know, it just felt sort of “oh, yep, next is this” and then it was. Don’t get me wrong; Peter Grant’s narration (full of smartass British humor) would be a delight to read about paint drying. But the mystery itself was just a little less than mysterious this time around – and with the big bad just barely visible and more focus on Peter and Lesley than on the whole assembled gang, it felt a little like a half-stop down from the first two books in the series.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. A half-step down indeed. This is still a delightful, funny, smart, and assured installment in what’s become one of my favorite on-going series – but it just didn’t quite pack the same punch as those first two books. The plot was a little more predictable (although I kept holding out hope for CHUD-esque terrifying underground people, the Quiet People were pretty great) and the expansion of the world feels a bit more… well, second-level now. The first blush of excitement of the world has faded and now we’re into the more serious things, where it’s sometimes going to be a little duller just by virtue of not being new anymore. But the pleasures are still certainly there and I look forward to, next January perhaps, picking up with Grant and May and Nightingale and all the rest. Things are getting good, I can feel it.