Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Butcher's Hook
You may not be able to see it from this picture but you really need to grab a copy of this book and look at this cover! Some amazing soul made  of patience seems to have drawn an incredibly detailed (and hilariously annotated) map of London and again bonus points for the cover, almost lovingly, reflecting the story inside. Please do ignore the strangely titled and, while still cool, less awesome cover of the US version, Midnight Riot, as the effort and sheer detail in this cover deserves your attention!

The Knowledge
Police Constable Peter Grant is just finishing his two year probationary stint with the London Metropolitan Police and is desperately trying to avoid being placed into the Case Progression Unit. The unit where the only police skills he'll utilise are touch typing, photocopying and letting the other proper cops get the real police work done, cops like his fellow probationary PC and not-so-secret crush PC Lesley May. Then one night, while Grant and May are guarding the scene of a particularly bizarre murder, Peter finds himself face to face with a ghost, a ghost who claims to have witnessed the crime. So like a good policeman Peter takes his statement. And it is this mentally questionable act that leads him into the eccentric sights of Inspector Nightingale, sole member of the Met's vaguely named Economic and Specialist Crime unit and resident weirdo. But anything is better than a lifetime of doing other people's paperwork so Peter jumps at the offer to join. And suddenly finds himself going on ghost hunts, brokering peace between the personifications of the River Thames and their tributary children and most importantly starting his apprenticeship as a police wizard.

That's The Sound of The Police
You know what? I've clearly been reading way too many American books lately, my genres of choice are rather dominated by our US cousins and there's nothing wrong with that. But I didn't realise how much I'd been missing good old British humor until I read this book. That quietly dry, frequently foul mouthed and always self effacing wry humor that the US is always trying to replicate by remaking our TV shows with little success (don't worry it goes both ways, our sitcoms are utter balls, My Family anyone? Ergh) Anyway it wasn't the only reason I loved this book but it ran through the story so effortlessly it made it even more of a joy to read.

As a person who absolutely hates visiting the real life city of London with all it's tourist crowded transport and the fact that it’s costs about a month's wages for a pint, I love reading about it, especially when the author clearly has a deep affection for our capital city. The London in books is so much more interesting the one in real life and Mr Aaronovitch has created a fascinating London that still manages to be a pretty accurate representation of the real thing. This book is filled with Peter’s observations and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the historical hot spots of London and I love it when a book teaches me new things like this. But even better then that is Peter's inability to stay focused, he gets distracted so easily and his mind takes him so some hilariously embarrassing places. My absolute favourite passage in the book is when he first meets the river Goddess, Mama Thames.
"Her face was round and unlined, her skin smooth and perfect as a child's, her lips full and very dark. She had the same black cat-shaped eyes as Beverly. Her blouse and wrap skirt were made from the finest gold Austrian lace, the neckline picked out in sliver and scarlet, wide enough to display one smooth plump shoulder and the generous upper slopes of her breasts.
One beautifully manicured hand rested on a side table, at the foot of which stood a burlap sacks and little wooden crates. As I stepped closer I could smell salt water and coffee, diesel and bananas, chocolate and fish guts. I didn't need Nightingale to tell me I was sensing something supernatural, a glamour so strong it was like being washed away in the tide. In her presence I found nothing strange in the fact that the Goddess of the River was Nigerian. 
'So you are the wizard's boy' said Mama Thames. 'I thought there was an agreement?' 
I found my voice. 'I believe it was more of an arrangement' 
I was fighting the urge to fling myself to my knees before her and put my face between her breasts and  go blubby, blubby, blubby."
From the sublime to the ridiculous, Peter tries so hard to concentrate but more often then not his thoughts swing wildly away from him and it made him a joy to follow.

I also have to give a standing ovation for the plot (which I will not spoil, don't fret) because after a few years of reading increasingly more and more books with supernatural or fantastical elements. I was, for the first time in a long time, presented with something that felt completely new and original to me. The ideas behind the crimes, the perpetrator's motives and the final big reveal was handled brilliantly and I already have the next in the series, Moon Over Soho, cued up and waiting for me to dive in (as soon as lovely man finishes it!)