I’ve enjoyed this series – see my review of Rivers of London here – so was looking forward to this next slice of Peter Grant goodness – particularly as the twist at the end of Broken Homes had my jaw dropping and Mhairi Simpson sending me sweary text messages… Would this next instalment sustain the quality?
When two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine. Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day. But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing covertly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.
But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets lurk under the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.
Well this is fun! Grant is taken right away from his natural stamping ground and deposited in amongst strangers who are battling to find two girls who have disappeared. After the high drama at the end of the last book, I’d feared this book might feel a tad flat – but the scene change and innate tension caused by the nature of the case meant Foxglove Summer hits the ground running and just goes on gathering momentum.
It’s always something of a balance when an author chooses to make his backdrop another character – if he’s not careful, said character starts to invade the action with description that silts up the pace. And urban fantasy always needs plenty of pace. There have been times in this series where Aaronovitch has struggled to keep this balance – but in this book he’s cracked it. The setting is depicted through Grant’s sharp, city-bred eyes with plenty of verve, making it bounce off the page and as the supernatural element becomes more apparent, there is an increasingly sinister twist to what we feel at first is perfectly ordinary. The heatwave provides yet more tension as the countryside swelters in heat that British bodies and buildings aren’t designed to deal with – let’s face it we’re only set up to cope with drizzle in this country.
The storyline gripped me from the first and didn’t let up. As ever, Aaronovitch reveals the faultlines in modern British society – the growing social divide and racism within the village is clearly shown as Grant and the rest of the police toil to find the missing girls. There is a cast of interesting characters who are also caught up in this adventure – unlike many supernaturally gifted protagonists, Grant doesn’t set out to annoy his superiors. While he is all too aware of some of the systemic failures of the organisation, he spends time and effort conforming to the guidelines and strictures while working within the police. I enjoy his constant referral to these guidelines, which give a far more realistic edge to the police procedural aspect of the book than other contenders.
And, of course, those of us still reeling after the denouement in Broken Homes are also watching a wounded Peter Grant. Nightingale’s suggestion that he pop down to Herefordshire in the first place is prompted by a concern for Grant – and a sense that he could do with getting away, even if it is only for a day… The situation continues to unfold throughout the book and this is again, a storyline that I love – and applaud Aaronovitch for continuing to show how one dramatic and horrifying occurrence in the first book goes on reverberating for those around them. All too often in urban fantasy, terrible events occur to get us plenty of drama – and within the space of a book the whole situation somehow rights itself and everyone carries on. Not so this series…
In short, for my money, this is the best book of the lot. And that’s saying something, because Aaronovitch is a fine writer whose success with this best-selling series is rightly deserved. And if your taste runs to well-written urban fantasy – or you started this series, but felt some of the subsequent books slightly lost their way, then get hold of Foxglove Summer. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.