The more I love a book, the harder it becomes to review, because I don’t want to move out of my state of enjoyment to one of analysis. That said, this was quite possibly my favorite installment of Peter Grant’s story yet. The characterization is interesting, there are developments in Peter’s personal life, and the overall arc of the series takes a satisfying and solid step forward.
I love the variety of characters and backgrounds, although this particular edition spends more time with the upper crust. Particularly for a mystery, one needs a wide enough cast for there to avoid obvious red herrings or red shirts. The broad number is appropriate for Peter balancing between his more magical life in the Folly, his personal life and his investigations. For the most part, I usually get the feeling that the diversity of characters is merely a representation of the city and not a checkbox; it is a part of who they are, but not the only important trait. DC Guleed, a female who wears a hijab, was introduced as a minor character in Whispers Underground, but is starting to play a significant role. Most of this seemed to be developed in the graphic novel, but for the most part one needn’t have read it as she starts to come into her own as the logical and level counterpoint to Peter’s leaps of logic and daredevil spirit. I particularly love her diplomatic skill on the phone:
“I heard Guleed pass this on and some grumbled swearing from Seawoll. ‘Tell him to get his arse down here pronto,’ he said. ‘He wants you to come in,’ said Guleed and gave me the address.”
Plotting remains pleasantly unpredictable for me. While the stories ostensibly have a main investigation, Peter leads a busy life. There are opportunities to learn more about magic and its practitioners, Peter’s family, the ongoing investigation into Leslie, side investigations such as hunting down the Little Crocodiles, learning about the history of the Folly and so forth. Because of it, both the plots and the pacing often surprise me. I also enjoy that it is very much a ‘police procedural.’ Peter occasionally goes to a desk, he works a computer, he explains to the reader the structure of a murder investigation within the London police. He frequently has asides to explain the approach and legality of police actions: “Guleed circled around the names and the timeline for twenty minutes, twenty minutes being about the amount of time it takes your average suspect–sorry, I mean witness–to forget the details of the lies they’ve just told you, before asking about the drugs.”
But at the end of the day, it’s always the writing that hooks me. Aaronovitch does a lovely job of giving us a scene, or Peter’s thoughts about how he is approaching something, but he rarely tells us how we are supposed to feel about it. That ability to show without telling seems particularly rare in UF. The suspect’s eyes may “glance at” something, but they usually don’t “furtive” anything. I don’t precisely know how Peter feels about Inspector Seawoll, for instance, although my best guess is that it is a complex combination of respect, fear, and a tiny bit of appreciation. It’s a technique I first recognized in Agatha Christie, where people are presented, implications perhaps drawn, but it’s left to the reader to draw the conclusions, and they may be different. For instance: “Lady Ty… asked the question again in a tone I recognized from my own mum. The one that says: Yes there’s going to be trouble, but that is as nothing to the trouble you are going to be in if you continue to cross me.” I had a crystal clear visual/audio on that one, but mine is likely going to be different from yours. There’s no “icily,” “stonily” or “scathingly” or any other of the hundred routine descriptives I feel pepper the average UF.
Ben Aaronvitch’s Peter Grant series has become one of the most satisfying urban fantasy detective novels in the field. Read it, and then listen to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith‘s audio version. You can thank me later.
Speaking of thanks, thanks to Caro, Orient, Milda and Mimi for letting me crash their group read. Loved the enthusiasm!