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.