RogerBW's Blog

Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch 21 October 2014

Contemporary fantasy. Peter Grant, Metropolitan Police constable and magician, investigates the sudden deaths of jazz musicians.

The plotting is a little tighter than in the previous book, but alas this comes at the cost of Grant coming over as utterly stupid. He not only misses a thoroughly obvious clue, he acts (thoroughly unprofessionally) as though it weren't even a possibility, and continues to ignore the overwhelming weight of evidence… until suddenly in the final chapter everything is neatly resolved without Grant ever quite explaining how or when he did finally work it out.

I realise it's a difficult task, to avoid creating characters who are either too smart (so that the reader doesn't get a chance to work things out for himself before the solution is revealed) or too stupid (so that the reader gets frustrated), but it's one that many writers do manage, and Rivers of London got it about right for my taste. I spent much of the book frustrated at Grant, which didn't dispose me to enjoy it.

There's a secondary plot, introduced at the end of the previous volume, which turns out to fizzle rather: there are some grotesqueries, and some interesting history of the magical world, but the principal villain is still out there by the end.

With more time spent on the plots, there's less of the material I really liked last time: the walking around London, since though we do get a bit of Soho and a few road names there's less of a feeling of utter immersion than before, and Grant's magical experimentation. He does make one obvious connection that I'd thought had already been abandoned, which seems to have some very big implications that are presumably being saved for a future volume.

Grant's character is a frustrating blend of post-adolescent male and smart ethicist. He's all too often led around by his genitalia, but then he comes up with a sensible solution to a significant ethical problem that none of his colleagues seems to have thought of. He continues to be written as snarky without being annoying, which is a serious achievement, and I'm very impressed with Aaronovitch for managing it.

PC Leslie May, badly injured at the end of the last book, is off-stage for almost all of this one, being relegated to doing Grant's menial work; when she does show up, at the beginning and end, it's clearly bridging material to remind us of the past and promise actual resolution later.

This reminds me of Two Serpents Rise: had it been the first book in the series that I'd read, I'd have been hugely impressed, and gone on to like the other volume even more. As it is, after the amazing first book, it's just a bit of a let-down. I'll still go on to read more, though.

Followed by Whispers Under Ground.

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