I enjoyed this book, so much that I didn’t want to immediately review it because I was still immersed in Peter Grant’s London. It’s the urban fantasy take on the detective novel, a police procedural that gives a close-up view of a modern London with undercurrents of magic and magical beings. I love the tone of this book–wry and humorous, but doesn’t let the humor take over the scene. It’s one thing to be ready with a quick line, another entirely to go through one’s entire life wisecracking, especially in times of great danger. Aaronovitch walks that delicate line like a pro.
Peter is a probationary constable who is about to be shifted into a paperwork division. He and his co-probationary officer and friend are guarding the perimeter of a murder scene when he sees a ghost. Peter is a very likeable hero, wry, intelligent, loyal, aware of class and race issues around him, and while he has family issues that include a heroin-dependent father, he doesn’t spend every moment agonizing and reliving the past. We are told he did well in the sciences in school, just not well enough to get him to the next levels. It’s magic’s gain, as he sets his analytical skills to understanding the magical world, using his free time for experiments. I love those little experiments, because it breaks up the action and makes Peter’s experience seem all the more real–who wouldn’t be asking a lot of questions if they discover there are magical beings and magic in the world? Many people would be asking the ‘hows’ and ‘whys;’ Peter attempts to answer some of the questions himself through the scientific method, to the surprise of his technologically-challenged boss.
There are few wizards left, and I liked that Aaronovitch didn’t make magic easy. It takes Peter hours of study and practice to advance, and we get a sense of the effort and thought Peter puts into it. It isn’t until a third into the book when he finally raises his own werelight, and we are ready to cheer with him when he does: “Fuck me, I thought. I can do magic.” It’s a refreshing change from the all-powerful heroes of other books. Similarly, he’s aware that even though he has two years on the force, he still makes mistakes, such as when he and Leslie “obtrusively” piled out of the car during surveillance.
Aaronovitch has a real gift for bringing life to his characters, even the most bit parts. Molly doesn’t talk at all, and we still get a very good sense of her, her dedication and her potential. Seawoll, an initially scary superior, and Leslie’s immediate boss, gets imbued with humanity when Peter watches him question witnesses. We’re also given a good look at the subtleties of the police department, when Seawoll “interrogates” Peter after a shooting. “Then we continued lying through our teeth while telling nothing but the truth.” It’s a perfect tone that conveys so much about the officers’ loyalty, the bureaucracy of the department, and the unspoken understanding to follow the letter of the law without coming close to the spirit.
I loved it, and the re-read was even better than the first time through. There are a lot of British-isms, but most of them can be puzzled out from the surrounding sentence(s). A great read, and I’ll be looking for a hardcover to add to my own library.
“I left in a hurry before he could change his mind, but I want to make it clear that at no point did I break into a skip.”
“Number two was a magical library where all the direct treatises on spells, forma and alchemy were kept, all of them written in Latin and so all Greek to me.“
Four and half investigative stars.