Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronvitch

Moon Over Soho

Re-read May 2016
Recommended for fans of police procedural UF
 ★     ★     ★     ★  

Moon Over Soho is an enjoyable, satisfying sophomore entry into the Peter Grant series about a London constable who is now working in magical law enforcement.

Peter calls on Leslie after the brutal ending of the first book. As he leaves, he’s called to the morgue where Dr. Walid wants Peter to note the definite vestigia about a dead man. Peter gets a clear sound of jazz sax, the kind of clue that only comes with strong magic. The team is still trying to protect Nightingale, recovering from a gunshot wound, so Peter is mostly on his own. As Peter traces the steps of the jazz musician’s life, he ends up meeting his former girlfriend Simone as well as his band-mates, who become Peter’s Irregulars. Not long after, Detective Stephanopoulos calls Peter to another body, this in the Groucho Club where a man is found missing his “wedding night tackle,” quite possibly torn off with a set of teeth. Tracing the circles of the two men brings Peter back into contact with his dad and the legacy of jazz. Occasionally, Peter even works on improving his magical skills.

Like the best detective mysteries, the setting plays a crucial role. London and its history comes alive through Grant’s thoughts on the history of police graft, the evolution of jazz, and the origin of the HOLMES database. Along with the London setting, there’s a fair amount of British slang and police terms: “copper,” “nick” and “taking the piss” are the easiest to figure. Aaronovitch doesn’t usually explain in passing, so sometimes meaning is a challenge to pick up, although I finally understood what ‘bullocks’ refers to. However, I felt like it adds to the flavor of the book rather than detracts.

As usual, Aaronvitch’s humor continues to shine, although there’s a healthy balance between sarcasm and seriousness. Overall, the language is fun and sophisticated, and a thorough reading will generate a lot of chuckles, particularly in scenes with Peter and Stephanopoulos. An early example of the fine balance: Every hospital I’ve ever been in has had the same smell–that whiff of disinfectant, vomit and mortality. UCH was brand new, less than ten years old, but the smell was already beginning to creep in at the edges except, ironically, downstairs in the basement where they kept the dead people.”

Plotting is perhaps the weakest element for me. While I enjoyed the story, I found myself frequently frustrated with Peter, particularly in light of all his references to “years of walking the beat” and references to coppers’ habitual suspicion. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m not particularly good at guessing who the villain is, so if I have suspicions, the author is either purposefully telegraphing or needs to work on plotting. In this case, I’m not sure which it is: while Peter is being incredibly dumb in dating the girlfriend of a murder victim, is this author intention to make him seem fallible? Or just lazy plotting? In this case, it also led to a couple of shagging interludes that seriously distracted from the mystery plotting. The wrap-up was somewhat problematic [ SPOILER —I was surprised by Peter’s efforts to save the vampires; as Nightingale pointed, she and her sisters are responsible for 200 plus deaths. Perhaps a ‘mental disorder’ as he suggests, but according to all copper standards, that still warrants locking up. ]. However, it made a certain amount of sense in context of Peter’s multicultural heritage and trying to educate Nightingale about the term ‘black’ magic.

I particularly enjoyed Peter’s interacts with Leslie in her post-trauma state. The most common way authors seem to handle tragedy in their male protagonists’ lives is through excruciating guilt and by telling the reader about the guilt. Instead, Peter visits, texts, and calls. He’s used to bouncing ideas off Leslie, and this trend continues. There are hints at his guilty feelings, but they do not dominate their interactions or Peter’s thoughts.

Overall, I didn’t love this quite as much as the first–but as that was a five star read, that’s still shouldn’t be considered a detraction (Rivers review). It is my one of my favorite series, and the best in UF detection.


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7 Responses to Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronvitch

  1. neotiamat says:

    Moon Over Soho is definitely one of the weaker installments in the Rivers of London series… but even a weak Rivers of London is a cracking good read.

    By the by, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Aaronovitch has expanded the series into graphic novels as well, with one series (Body Works) complete and another (Night Witches) almost complete. Not quite as elaborately designed as the books, but watching Molly and Toby shenanigans is worth the price of admission alone.

    • thebookgator says:

      I absolutely agree with you. I’m re-experiencing the series in audio and have to say Holbrook Smith is effing ah-may-zing and makes it even better. I am aware of the graphic novels–I’m generally not a graphics kind of person, but think I’m going to have to give them a go, particularly if they have your endorsement. I do follow his blog and was wondering about Night Witch and if it was connected–wasn’t sure as he generally posts art previews without explanation.

      • neotiamat says:

        Well, there’s the Night Witch character introduced in Book 4 and the most recent art previews have Grant in them, so we can safely consider them part of the continuity.

        I’ll admit that I’ve not traditionally been a graphic novel person either, but a surprising number of authors are wandering between books and graphic novels these days. Neil Gaiman, Ben Aaronovitch, Mike Carey… seems to be mostly a British thing, mind you, probably due to graphic novels being a bit more respectable there than in the US (less superheroes, more high-concept stuff like V for Vendetta).

  2. Redhead says:

    I remember really liking Rivers of London, and then liking Moon over Soho just OK. i stopped reading there, but I should really pick this series up again, I keep hearing how good it gets later on.

    • thebookgator says:

      Moon Over Soho just felt less polished with too much character inconsistency. That said, Whispers Underground was back to fabulous. I strongly recommend listening–the reader is fabulous.

  3. thebookgator says:

    @Neotiamat–good point on the book-graphic connection these days. You make an interesting point about the British authors being more willing to explore that direction as well as having a non-superhero focus. I’d say the genre as a whole is going through a rejuvenation at the moment. Maybe it’s also less expensive to give it a shot (and fail) then tv/movies. Personally, I’m a big Blech on the superheroes, but I’ll check out Grant.

  4. neotiamat says:

    Personally, I feel like much of the issue with superheroes and comics can be explained by the fact that the medium has been dominated by DC and Marvel, which introduces certain unfortunate aspects (authors have very limited control over their work, storylines designed by committee or by corporate decision making, the effort required to create these enormous shared worlds that last for generations…)

    In the UK, there was never this same level of centralization. So British comics typically have more contained storylines (something like V for Vendetta or Sandman runs a certain number of issues and then stops, rather than the eternal Batman or Superman), and authors have far more control over their own work (Neil Gaiman has the rights to virtually everything Sandman, despite working for DC). So my feeling is that the British genre is more creatively ‘mature’ as a result.

    I do think we’re having a graphic novel renaissance right now, for much the same reason that novellas are making a comeback, which is that the internet is seriously lowering the barriers to entry.

    That said, if you want to try a graphic novel, I wouldn’t *start* with the Rivers of London material, although it does have the advantage of familiarity. If you want a good graphic novel type thing from scratch, go look up A Redtail’s Dream on google, by Minna Sundberg, or Stand Still, Stay Silent, by the same author.

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