Rivers Run Riot

Rivers of London By Ben Aaronovitch

No Spoilers (You wouldn’t believe me anyway)

I first came across Rivers of London, the first of the highly popular series by Ben Aaronovitch, in my book club at work. This was about a month ago and it was my friend and fellow book-clubber’s turn to recommend a book. The lovely Fiona has great taste in books and I was looking forward to seeing what she was going to pick.

When a link came through by email to this book, I was fractionally disappointed, then fractionally interested, then completely horrified. The British version of the cover while beautiful, makes it look like a history book: disappointing. Then one learns it’s actually a novel: now I was interested. That is until I looked even closer and saw how reviewer Diana Gabaldon summed it up - “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz”: horrified. I’m sure she meant it as a compliment but instead of encouraging me to read it, I immediately started thinking up my excuses as to why I didn’t read the book this month. I could blame cramps or my hectic (ha!) social life but the truth is that I’m not a fan of fantasy to begin with, let alone able to tolerate any Harry Potter knock-offs.

However I’m never one to be closed-minded and I duly got a second-hand copy and started it on my way home from work. Despite the the 4.3 star rating on Amazon it’s fair to say my expectations were not high. However by the end of the first paragraph I was hooked. The style of writing drew me in immediately. Far from being a fantasy book that takes itself far too seriously, you can almost see Aaronovitch giving you a wink throughout and saying ‘I know this is a crazy idea, just see it through yeah?’. See it through I did, and I was glad to do it.

Straight away, there’s much to endear you to main character Peter Grant, the incurably curious London copper. Upon meeting the main witness to a brutal murder, who also happens to be a ghost he is of course surprised, but then decides he still needs to follow police protocol and interview him in the proper manner. There are no time-consuming pages, like in so many fantasy books, that exist just to convince the character magic is real, when you, the reader, have already accepted this premise, suspended your disbelief and are eager for the story to progress. Here, there is one raised eyebrow, then it’s on with the story. Brilliant. How very British.

Now I mentioned suspending disbelief and boy did you need a crane to do so with this book. If, like me, you live in London you will have no trouble accepting the spate of seemingly motive-less assaults and murders Peter and his team are investigating, right up until three quarters of the way through the story. You will almost see a glimpse of it coming, but dismiss it as ridiculous. I won’t spoil the conclusion of course but it’s fair to say you will wonder what on earth the former Dr Who screenwriter was smoking when he came up with it. However the juxtaposition of this crazy magic alongside proper policing procedure is delicious and keeps the story from being too intolerably wacky.

This mix, I will warn you, is not for everyone. At time of writing the majority of the book group has not read the book (they all have lives, or some other excuse), and the one who has, utterly hated it. For her the mix of reality and fantasy just doesn’t feel right. So if you feel you won’t be able to glide seamlessly between Peter flirting with sexy river gods one minute and discussing proper interviewing techniques with his governor the next, then I’d give this book a miss. You will however be missing out on some of the best laugh-out-loud writing I’ve come across in a long time; the sort of dry observational humour that leaves one chuckling and people giving you a wide berth on the tube.

Since I’m waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, I have now devoured the rest of the series. The second book, Moon Over Soho is equal in quality to the first and definitely left me wanting more. I am delighting in spending more time in Peter Grant’s universe. The fact that this universe consists of almost exclusively London locations is no surprise, since Ben claims that he will leave “when they pry his city from his cold dead fingers”, and it installs a lovely sense of ‘ooh, I know that place’ while reading it.

So yes, I am now a fan of fantasy, or at least of this series. I also hear a rumour that Ben Aaronovitch is currently doing a book tour to promote Foxglove Summer, the fifth instalment of Peter Grant’s adventures. Maybe I will go along and ask him exactly what it is he’s been smoking, and for the fantasy genre’s sake, not to give it up.

comments powered by Disqus