RogerBW's Blog

Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch 27 April 2016

Contemporary fantasy, fourth in the series. Peter Grant, Metropolitan Police constable and magician, looks into a number of cases that seem to be tying back to a Brutalist tower block in Southwark.

This series sucked me in by observing real places in London, precisely and lovingly, and much of its early joy was in putting skewed meanings on real oddities of life. So it's a bit of a disappointment that the tower block in question is a completely fictitious one, occupying the space that historically was taken up by the Heygate Estate next to Elephant and Castle.

It's more of a disappointment that we take so long to get to that block; when Peter and Lesley inevitably move in, it's more than half-way through the book, with the first half spent on a mish-mash of cases that never really go anywhere and a not at all plot-relevant, though to be fair highly atmospheric, sequence as faerie comes to Bernie Spain Gardens on the South Bank and demands that the police provide security. This often feels like a middle volume, building on things that have been previously established (really, don't start the series here) and leaving new hooks for things that will happen in the future but not really resolving much in itself. The Big Bad of the series to date is caught, but of course gets away.

Looking on the brighter side, Grant's narrative voice is still distinctive and amusing without (mostly) being annoying; people are mentioned as "white" when they are, rather than it being the assumed default; mundane police work is still important, though in these cases it doesn't really go anywhere.

There's a "Night Witch" who isn't one of those Night Witches, though she is Russian and was a magician in the Great Patriotic War, and it seems a bit paltry to re-use the term. But maybe that's just me.

The core conceit is revealed with a grand flourish as though nobody had ever thought of zntvpny nepuvgrpgher before and needed it led up to slowly and carefully with lots of hand-holding. Maybe some people haven't. I found it a bit of a let-down, as I'd been assuming that core concept and going on to try to work out why it was behaving this way in this particular case. There isn't, in the end, much mystery to be solved here.

The ending generated a great deal of fuss, as things are set up to look as though a major character has turned traitor. It didn't quite work for me, as I noticed the weasel words and lack of precise observations, leaving all sorts of ways for this to be got out of in a future book.

Read it for the characterisation rather than for the plot and action, and there's plenty of enjoyment to be had here. Followed by Foxglove Summer.

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