My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit – We do paperwork so real coppers don’t have to – and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Lesley May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. And that, as they say, is where the story begins.
The above is the first paragraph of the blurb inside the dust cover. I didn’t want to include the whole text as it’s pretty long, but just this first paragraph captures the tone of the novel perfectly. It’s playful, humorous and instantly captivating. And it’s abundantly clear why there are so many rave reviews out there for Ben Aaronovitch’s debut novel; just to be clear, this will be another such review!
Let me start off by saying how much I loved the London details! While I’ve only been to London three times, I was actually able to pick out some of the places and routes Peter describes from memory. I’m going back to London in June and I really want to visit some of the locations described in the book (again). I want to go back to Trafalgar Square and see whether there really is a plaque on one of the lion’s bums and I want to visit the Actor’s Church and revisit Covent Garden. Aaronovitch manages to capture London’s spirit in such a way that it comes alive of the page and it’s made me even more excited to go back.
Rivers of London is filled with a great cast of characters. Peter is extremely likeable and it’s easy to care about what happens to him. He comes across as one of your mates and that is the tone the novel is told in as well. As if you’ve ended up in a pub – Peter’s a copper, where else? – and he’s telling you the story of his first six months as a full DC. His governor, Chief Inspector Nightingale is your prototype kindly, wise mentor and his interactions with Peter are great fun. The banter between Peter and his two leading ladies, Lesley and Beverly is awesome. Both of these ladies are funny, independent and great matches for Peter, so much so that I didn’t know who to root for in this little triangle. However, there is a lot of background information on these characters still left to be discovered. Hopefully, in the next book they will become a little more fleshed-out in this respect. There are some characters I really hope we see more of. I’d like to see more of DC Stephanopoulos and find out whether she really is the hard-ass everyone makes her out to be or whether the glimpse we saw during Peter’s interview – of the little girl in the pink room filled with stuffed unicorns – is the true Stephanopoulos. I’d also like to learn more about Molly and Dr. Walid. How did they become connected to the Folly and what exactly is Molly?
Luckily, the book’s great characters aren’t let down by the plot. The idea of the river spirits is fantastic and I loved the personifications of the various rivers. Especially since they seem to be influenced by who lives in “their” spot and change accordingly. This is exemplified most clearly by Lady Tyburn, who is a high-powered upper-class Lady, but whose less savoury history still echoes in her vestigium: “She smelled of cigars and new car seats, horses and furniture polish, Stilton, Belgian chocolate and, behind it all, the hemp and the crowd and the last drop into oblivion.” The main crime of the story was interesting as well. I loved the link to the theatre, the Actor’s Church and all it entails. Hard to really say what I want to say for fear of giving spoilers.
I did have one issue with the book though, the out of the blue solving of problems posited earlier in the story, like the electronics and where to find Father Thames. These solutions suddenly appear out of nowhere and I’d be blinking and thinking I’d missed something, merely to find out that the explanation of the problem only followed a few pages later or that we just got the solution, not an explanation. But on the whole, this didn’t irritate me enough to take anything away from my enjoyment of this story.
So is this book worth the hype? In my opinion, yes it definitely is! I loved every second I spent with this novel and I can’t wait to go back. Happily, I won’t have to wait long; Peter’s second adventure, Moon over Soho, is due out from Gollancz in late April. I’m looking forward to going back to the Folly already.