Ben Aaronovich’s first book, Rivers of London, garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and positive attention from reviewers and critics alike. I certainly enjoyed it. So, does the sequel, released only a few months later by those busy folks at Orion, live up to the high standard set by the first book?
The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.
Body and soul – they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace – one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant – otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.
Apart from the fact that this book reaffirms Aaronovich’s detailed research/knowledge of London’s tucked-away corners and we learn that he is also a jazz nut – it also firmly establishes this series as One To Watch. Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist – funny, slightly vulnerable and insatiably curious. And someone who seems to trip over trouble with great frequency. I liked the way this book immediately picks up the threads from Rivers of London, so we get to see more of the engaging cast of characters. Molly is a standout favourite and I’m waiting to see her get a lot more action. Peter’s long-suffering mentor, DCI Nightingale is still recovering from the injuries he sustained at the climactic ending of Rivers of London, as is PC Lesley May, Peter’s girlfriend. We also get to see more of the river deities at the heart of this series and the adventure with Ash is one of the more exuberant set pieces in the middle of this fast-paced whodunit. It is a relief to have an urban fantasy protagonist who isn’t nursing all sorts of major emotional damage due to a dysfunctional upbringing. While Peter was raised in a tough part of town, he also has a strong, loving family around him – even if it was rather haphazard.
I sort of guessed who was responsible for killing off the jazz musicians well before the denouement – though that didn’t really matter. I hadn’t seen the how and besides there’s another case where the threat is even more deadly and is clearly going to be taking up Peter’s time in the next book. The humour threading through the story immediately drew me in and held me. I read the book in a single sitting – however, in devouring it so greedily I’m conscious that I’m selling this novel short. There is a wealth of detail packed alongside the engrossing storyline – descriptions of London haunts; snippets of magical lore and delightfully irreverent insights into police procedure. So you can pounce on it and gorge on the story, but I think this is also a book that would benefit from being reread at a slower pace to fully appreciate what Aaronovich has crafted and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Whispers Under Ground.