Review of Whispers Underground – Book 3 in Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch


D.C. Peter Grant – U.K.’s answer to Harry Dresden – serves in a little known branch of the Metropolitan Police. So in this, the third book in the series does Aaronovitch manage to sustain the energy, quirky humour and detailed knowledge that has made this series so popular so quickly?

In Tuffnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains to and from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And one Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long-suffering Lesley May down there to look for a ghost.

We found one.

whispersundergroundAnd that was that, I thought, because come Monday, I get to do some proper policing. Persons Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves. Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International Incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case. And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits…

That’s the premise – and with that we are whisked off in Peter Grant’s engaging, chirpy first person viewpoint to a ringside seat as he embarks on another investigation. Once more, we are treated to his cinematic descriptions of the city he clearly loves and knows as well as a London cabbie, while he plunges into another plot more twisty than Mama Thames herself.

Lesley May is accompanying him for most of the ride – and the sparky, yet poignant interaction between the two of them lit up sections of the book for me. In any successful long-running series, it becomes as much about the supporting characters as the protagonist. Aaronovitch doesn’t rely solely on having one of the most cheekily engaging main characters to keep our interest – he also surrounds Peter with a quirky cast. This ranges from Molly, the housekeeper at The Folly (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth and chronic insomnia); Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, Peter’s boss and that last official English wizard, to the pantheon of headstrong river goddesses who all seem to have a bit of a thing for Peter…

Aaronovitch is a highly experienced writer and knows that one of his writing strengths is creating powerfully effective backdrops, providing mood music to the action. This book has underground tunnels as a creepy setting to the action – not just the Underground, but also slices of the complex warren that burrows under London for a variety of purposes. I’d strongly advise you to avoid reading the passages set in the sewer while eating your dinner – it’ll put you right off your food…

Whispers Underground is every bit as good as the first two books – if anything, better. Peter’s character sings off the page and as Aaronovitch refines and fleshes out the world and supporting cast, his voice gains in emotional depth and confidence. This is certainly one of 2012’s outstanding reads.

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