RogerBW's Blog

Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch 10 January 2015

Contemporary fantasy. Peter Grant, Metropolitan Police constable and magician, investigates the death of a man found stabbed on Baker Street station.

The plot starts in a fairly conventional way, with unexpected evidence found on the murder scene, and gradual following of its implications into some fairly unexpected places. This works quite well, with no sudden cliff between normal (admittedly magically-aided) police work and dealing with the things that come up as a result of it. The subplots are less well-integrated: one deals with an attempt to trace a group of magicians partly uncovered in Moon Over Soho, another deals with an outsider being brought partly into the fold, but both of them are clearly setup for future books and come as rather clunking changes of pace from the main investigation. And once more Aaronovitch does his annoying trick of eliding a significant series of events near the climax so that he can hint knowingly at them later.

Alas, there's still not enough of the lovely sense of place in London that made the first book stand out so well. There's some of Aaronovitch's usual good description of locations, but apart from architectural notes it's largely happening in the Underground tunnels and sewers, rather than places the typical reader might actually have visited. There is plenty of London history, and it's well-integrated with the core mystery, with only the occasional obvious infodump.

I do feel that if you're going to poke fun at grammar, you should get it right:

The school […] was […] where countless generations of the Peckwater Estate had been educated, including me and Abigail. Or, as Nightingale insists it should be, Abigail and I.

No, it shouldn't, and Nightingale wouldn't make that mistake. Putting the noun before the pronoun is quite separate from putting the pronoun in the right case.

Lesley May is back on stage after her near-absence from Moon over Soho, and now part of the magical organisation. How she doesn't simply take over from Grant isn't clear; she seems to be better than him at pretty much everything except the magic she hasn't had as long to learn. An outsider here is the FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds, brought in when it becomes clear that the victim was American and well-connected; she mostly serves as a mundane viewpoint, since Grant and May are now reasonably familiar with the magical world, but feels like an intrusion from a different sort of book, perhaps deliberately. Or perhaps the author's reaching for an American audience, but then he'd probably have painted her as a bit less trigger-happy. (And the jacket blurb is completely misleading about her. Maybe it was written from an earlier version?)

This book feels as though the series is getting into its groove. It's distinctly better than the uneven Moon over Soho, though for me not quite back to the level of Rivers of London.

"Much as I love standing knee-deep in shit," said Kumar, "it would be a really bad idea to hang around here much longer."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"The water level's rising," he said. "In fact, as the senior officer here I think I'm going to insist." He stared at us, obviously expecting one of us to object.

"You had us at 'the water level's rising,'" I said.

Followed by Broken Homes.

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See also:
Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Previous in series: Moon Over Soho | Series: Rivers of London | Next in series: Broken Homes

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 03:38pm on 11 January 2015

    "You had us at 'the water level's rising,'" I said.

    That is quite droll, I'll have to steal it.

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