Book, screen, stage, festival & event reviews.
‘Do read it,’ she urged me. ‘She’ was the ever warm and generous Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner, urging me to read Rivers of London. And I was not the first on her list. At the time, well into the reading for 2012’s Creasey submissions, I checked out the sample on Kindle. Then I immediately ordered a paperback copy. I was rather taken with the voices of Peter Grant and Lesley May: two probationary constables fresh from Hendon’s training and attached to Charing Cross nick.
As a seasoned crime fiction reader, this series – for Rivers is the start of a series – may not have made it onto your radar yet. But you can be forgiven with ease as the publisher is Gollancz, and on Amazon you’ll find the description ‘CSI London, Urban Fantasy-style!’ To date, the majority of online reviews come strongly attached to the sci-fi world. But now the buzz is humming around the crime contingent. An appearance by the author at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival no doubt helped. Aaronovitch was on a panel ‘Crime in Another Dimension’, looking at the ‘huge increase in the popularity of crime fiction with a science fiction or urban fantasy setting.’ So, yes, this one crosses the genres, and what does it offer?
When a body is discovered in front of the east portico of St Paul’s Church (The Actors’ Church) in Covent Garden, the Met Police Service is spurred into action. Needing more uniforms to secure the scene, Peter Grant and Lesley May are called out from section house to assist. Both are awaiting confirmation of their transfers into operational service, so a murder scene proves an exciting task. Indeed, Peter Grant has no bigger fear than being transferred into the ‘Case Progression Unit’, a life of humdrum paper-pushing as he sees it. But that night on the piazza sets the career trajectories for both. Lesley May does achieve a move into the Westminster-based Murder Investigation Team. Peter Grant, having encountered a witness on the scene who proves to be a ghost, finds himself reporting to Inspector Thomas Nightingale, England’s last wizard in a very small and highly specialised Met unit.
What follows can only be described as highly imaginative and extremely clever. Straight policing is married with that urban fantasy/sci-fi world in a seamless fashion and in a very contemporary world. For a pure crime fiction reader the beauty comes from the characterisation of Peter Grant and his wry humour in first person narration. He is both a product of and an incisive commentator on the politically correct environment of modern policing.
She hadn’t been gone more than a minute when I saw a figure by the portico. A short man in a suit tucked into the shadows behind the nearest column.
I gave the prescribed Metropolitan Police ‘first greeting’.
‘Oi!’ I said. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
And it’s not just the policing that draws out Grant’s dry view of life:
Detective Chief Inspector Alexander Seawoll was a big man, coming in a shade under two metres, barrel-chested, beer-bellied, and with a voice that could make the windows shake. He was from Yorkshire, or somewhere like that, and like many Northerners with issues, he’d moved to London as a cheap alternative to psychotherapy…
Alongside some great characterisation and strong voice we also have London as a setting and a character in its own right. Aaronovitch knows his patch and takes us to his favourite places with an education and some history along the way. It’s all very rich in detail and hugely enjoyable.
As for the plot, well it’s time to take your suspension of disbelief out for a damn good airing. As already noted, Rivers of London crosses into the urban fantasy/sci-fi arena. Just believe me when I say it’s all very cleverly done and remains true to the location.
Rivers of London was published in January 2011. The second in the series, Moon Over Soho followed swiftly on its heels in April 2011 and the latest, Whispers Under Ground was published in June of this year.
If you are a crime purist do try this series as it offers something different. You may fall a little tired of the wizardry towards the end but the humour and character development will keep you going. Peter Grant is an absolute darling and Lesley May is perfect as the foil to his shortcomings. It will be no surprise that they have a ‘Will they? Won’t they?’ relationship.
Some have compared this series to Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series, but for me there is only one element in which it is similar. And to specify which would be a spoiler…
My thanks to Elizabeth Haynes for the prompt here. Even before writing this, a friend of mine reported in that he is eagerly moving on to books two and three. You see, I told you that the crime contingent buzz was humming.