Books : reviews

Ben Aaronovitch.
Remembrance of the Daleks.
Target. 1990

Ben Aaronovitch.
Virgin. 1992

Ben Aaronovitch.
The Also People.
Virgin. 1995

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 19 October 1999

Nowadays, I don't read much media SF unless I like the author. Although I have never read anything by Aaronovitch before, I do like his Doctor Who TV episodes Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, and I have heard net.posters describe The Also People as "An Iain M. Banks Culture novel with the serial numbers filed off". So I thought I would try it. And it's good.

Up until now my Doctor Who experience has consisted solely of watching the TV shows and reading the odd anniversary special coffee table book (and building a cardboard Tardis, of course). This is different. The Doctor may be familiar (here in his 7th, Sylvester McCoy, incarnation), but all the Companions are new to me, and yet obviously have a lot of back story with him (I suspect that reading only one of the many "New Adventures" is responsible here). Also, there is more depth to the characters, and a more adult tone to the story -- Companions hopping into bed with the natives, and so on. Although the TV series was made by the BBC's Drama department, not its Children's department, it was supposedly deemed suitable for children (on the sex and bad language front, if not always on the violence front, at least). So I found reading this Doctor Who novel rather disconcerting, like coming back to a familiar place after a long absence, where much is the same, but changed.

Anyway, to the review. The Doctor has taken his three Companions -- Bernice, Roz and Chris -- to paradise for a holiday. They are on (in?) a Dyson sphere, controlled by a planet-sized computer known as God, where all the inhabitants, biological humanoids and artificial drones and ships, are effectively immensely wealthy and powerful, having ready access to immensely advanced technology (all this is the Culture-esque bit). So powerful, in fact, that they have a non-aggression pact with the Time Lords.

As always, The Doctor has an ulterior motive for his seemingly innocent actions, and, as always, things start Happening as soon as he arrives. There's a murder, and the Doctor and Roz are the most suitable beings to investigate. They have to find the solution before the inhabitants decide that actually the Doctor is violating the pact.

It's not the detective plot that makes this story fun, however. The investigation merely serves as an excuse for exploring the world and its people, and suggesting how one might live in a world where one's every whim is catered to, and yet still lead a satisfying and fulfilling life. There are some wonderful scenes as the Companions experience the technology, and some beautifully acidly witty one-liners. It doesn't have some of the depth, or the nastiness, of a Banks' novel -- I would say it's a Culture novel with the serial numbers, and the darkness, filed off -- but it's well written, keeps the Doctor in character, and poses some interesting questions. A good read. (And I would probably have rated it 2.5 if I hadn't already read the Culture.)

Ben Aaronovitch.
Rivers of London (== Midnight Riot) .
Gollancz. 2011

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 30 October 2011

Probationary Constable Peter Grant is not looking forward to being assigned to Case Progression Unit where he would be performing a valuable role. He wants to do real policing. Then he questions a ghost who witnesses a murder, and his career direction suddenly changes. He is apprenticed to the mysterious Inspector Nightingale, not only to investigate a series of haunted murders, but to help placate Mother Thames and her daughter rivers in their feud with further upstream Father Thames. All while trying to start a relationship with PC Lesley May.

This is a wonderful innovative fantasy police procedural situated in a totally recognisable and yet completely alien contemporary London. The tone is relatively light and street-smart, but there are real consequences and real heartaches to deal with. Peter is bright and capable, but still junior and not yet experienced in either policing or magic. It will be fun to watch him grow through the series.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Moon Over Soho.
Gollancz. 2011

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 8 November 2012

Constable Peter Grant is called in to investigate the death of a part-time jazz musician, as there is a whiff of magic about the case. He discovers this is not the first such event, and is soon on the trail of a "jazz vampire". Things are made more personal as his father, washed up jazz player himself, starts to play again, with the dead man's group. Can Peter stop him being the next victim? Along the way he has to deal with a possible succubus, the children of the Thames, and a powerful faceless magician. But he is at least helped remotely by PC Lesley May, recovering from her horrific Punch-inflicted injuries.

More magic, mayhem, policing, and street smarts. Again, this is relatively light, in an ironic, sarcastic way, but again there are deep undercurrents, and something very nasty waiting to jump out of the woodwork. The ending leaves room for a whole series of follow-ons, if needs be.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Whispers Under Ground.
Gollancz. 2012

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 November 2013

‘Come Monday I get to do some proper policing. Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved.’

Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds is on DC Grant’s case.

And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, there are whispers of vengeance from beyond the grave.

DC Grant’s latest case is about to come off the rails…

DC Peter Grant gets called in to help with a murder investigation, since there seems to be something potentially “odd” about it. This leads to investigation of the London Underground, and, inevitably, the London sewers. Meanwhile, Peter and Lesley are continuing to track down potential rogue wizards.

This is another excellent entry in the series. Peter is growing into his magical role, and also growing as a police detective. The pace here is relentless, as Peter tries to work out how magic and pottery are linked to murder, while avoiding letting the FBI discover his secret. More and more people are being let in on the secret, though; it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in future books.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Broken Homes.
Gollancz. 2013

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 26 November 2014

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection? And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

DC Peter Grant, wizard in training, gets sucked into yet another weird case, with bodies and books all pointing to mysterious goings on in a south London skyscraper. He and Lesley go undercover to see if they can discover what is going on, why so many people are interested in architecture, and if the Faceless Man is involved.

This is another great entry in the series. I love the depiction of the surreal characters, especially the police working through all the bureaucracy of their jobs, and the ordinary, extraordinary, and riverine people’s reactions to them. There is a tremendous sense of place, be it in inner city London, or deepest Essex. And the magical plot is developing in interesting directions, with characters old and new showing unexpected facets.

After the shattering conclusion, I can’t wait for the next installment!

Ben Aaronovitch.
Foxglove Summer.
Gollancz. 2014

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 27 August 2015

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 overtly 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 underlay the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Soon he’s in a vicious race against time in a world where the boundaries between reality and fairy have never been less clear!

Two yound girls go missing in Herefordshire, and PC Peter Grant is sent there to check up that it’s not the fault of a local wizard. Despite feeling a bit of a strange buzz, Peter clears the old man of any wrongdoing. But he doesn’t want to go back to London yet, still recovering from a shattering betrayal. So he stays to help the local police search. And discovers there is a magical element after all.

This is another great entry in the series, as Peter copes with the bizarre behaviours of country dwellers, and the even more bizarre magical creatures living there. The juxtaposition of matter-of-fact policing, sleuthing with the help of river goddess Beverley Brook, and encountering invisible friends who are not that friendly is just delicious.

As all the others in the series, the specific plot is tied up well. But there is one thread that is merely setting up for a later encounter between Peter and his betrayer. I can’t wait!

Ben Aaronovitch.
The Hanging Tree.
Gollancz. 2015

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 20 February 2018

Suspicious deaths are not usually the concern of PC Peter Grant, even when they happen at an exclusive party in one of the most expensive apartment blocks in London. But Lady Ty’s daughter was there and Peter owes Lady Ty a favour.

Plunged into the alien world of the super-rich, where the basements are bigger than the houses and dangerous, arcane items are bought and sold on the open market, a sensible young copper would keep his head down and his nose clean. But this is Peter Grant we’re talking about.

He’s been given an unparalleled opportunity to alienate old friends and create new enemies at the point where the world of magic and that of privilege intersect. Assuming he survives the week…

Lady Tyburn’s daughter Olivia has got herself mixed up in a suspicious death, so Lady Ty calls in a favour with DC Peter Grant. Peter goes to interview Olivia, to eliminate her from his enquiries, she implicates herself, and so he has to arrest her. Way to endear himself to Lady Ty. He now has to investigate fully if he is to de-implicate Olivia. That investigation will uncover hidden depths of the kind that Peter is trained to investigate.

This is another good entry in the series, as Peter grapples with friends and foes old and new. As ever, it is an interesting case in its own right, and there’s a big plot-arc development at the end.

Ben Aaronovitch.
The Furthest Station.
Gollancz. 2017

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 21 September 2019

There’s something going bump on the Metropolitan line and Sergeant Jaget Kumar knows exactly who to call.

It’s PC Peter Grant’s speciality…

Only it‘s more than going ‘bump’. Traumatised travellers have been reporting strange encounters on their morning commute, with strangely dressed people trying to deliver an urgent message. Stranger still, despite calling the police themselves, within a few minutes the commuters have already forgotten the encounter – making the follow up interviews rather difficult.

So with at little help from Abigail and Toby the ghost hunting dog, Peter and Jaget are heading out on a ghost finding expedition.

Because discovering the ghost and deciphering their urgent message might just be a matter of life and death.

There are ghosts on the Underground, terrifying passengers who then forget them. They seem to be trying to pass on a message. PC Peter Grant and his young cousin Abigail go to the end of the line to investigate.

This is a novella, so the plot is necessarily rather linear, although still fun. The best parts are the toddler river god, and finding out more about Peter’s cousin Abigail, a teen into ghosts, Latin, and other typical teenage things.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Lies Sleeping.
Gollancz. 2018

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 21 November 2019

The Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run.

Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring him to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that the Faceless Man, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan.

A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague – Lesley May – who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch.

Things are reaching a climax: the Faceless Man has been unmasked, but that doesn’t mean wizard apprentice Detective Constable Peter Grant and his magician boss Inspector Nightingale know where he is, what he is planning, or how to capture him. But they do have a bit more of the Metropolitan Police Force helping them directly. And there are several rivers on his side, too. But before the adventure is over, the events are going to change Peter in more ways than one.

This is yet another great entry in the series. Part of the fun is the complex magic plot, but most of it is the culture clash with mundane policing procedures and rules, and Peter’s wry take on everyday London life. Oh, and the fact that his girlfriend is a river. And the fact that part of how he succeeds is through being a thoroughly decent bloke.

Ben Aaronovitch.
The October Man.
Gollancz. 2019

Trier is famous for wine, Romans and being Germany’s oldest city.

When a body is found, covered in a fungal rot, the local police know they’re out of their depth. Fortunately, this is Germany: where there are procedures for everything.

Enter Investigator Tobias Winter. With the help of local cop Vanessa Sommer, he links the victim to a group of ordinary middle-aged men – who may have accidentally reawakened a bloody conflict from a previous century.

But the rot is spreading, and with the suspect list extending to people born before Frederick the Great, solving the case may mean unearthing the city’s secret and magical history.

…so long as that history doesn’t kill them first.

Ben Aaronovitch.
False Value.
Gollancz. 2020

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 10 October 2020

Peter Grant was once the Met Police’s First trainee wizard – yes, they exist – in fifty years . Now, he’s facing fatherhood and a new job, with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm.

Leaving his old police life behind, he joins Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner’s new London start-up: the Serious Cybernetics Corporation.

Drawn into the orbit of Old Street’s famous ‘silicon roundabout’, Peter thinks it should be a doddle compared to his last job. But he doesn’t know that a secret is hiding in the building.

A secret that stretches back to Lovelace and Babbage, and forward to the future of artificial intelligence. A secret that is just as magical as it is technological – and twice as dangerous.

The arc of the Faceless Man is over, and the fallout from that case has taken its toll on Peter Grant. He’s left the police force, and become a security officer at the Serious Cybernetics Corporation, working for another ex-copper to track down something fishy going on. And Beverley, his pregnant river goddess girlfriend, is getting close to term.

Of course, given it’s Peter involved, the fishiness turns out to be magical, and dangerous. There’s a strong geeky feel to this volume, with all the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy references, and all the Lovelace and Babbage background. (One point not exploited was Babbage’s professed hatred of street music, which would have been quite appropriate to the plot; maybe its omission is a meta-joke?)

Old friends turn up, new enemies are made, old computers turn out to be more operational that might have been expected, and Peter’s new job gets him into the kind of trouble he is very much accustomed to, and a new kind of trouble, too.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Tales from the Folly.
JABberwocky. 2020

Return to the world of Rivers of London in this first short Story collection from #1 Sunday Times bestselling author, Ben Aaronovitch. Tales from the Folly is a carefully curated collection that gathers together previously published stories and brand new tales in the same place for the first time.

Each tale features a new introduction from the author, filled with insight and anecdote offering the reader a deeper exploration into this absorbing fictional world. This is a must read for any Rivers of London fan.

Join Peter, Nightingale, Abigail, Agent Reynolds and Tobias Winter for a series of perfectly portioned tales. Discover what's haunting a lonely motorway service station, who still wanders the shelves of a popular London bookshop, and what exactly happened to the River Lugg…

Ben Aaronovitch.
What Abigail Did That Summer.
Gollancz. 2021

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 2 January 2022

Ghost hunter, fox whisperer, troublemaker. Meet Abigail.

While her cousin – police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant – is off in the sticks chasing unicorns, Abigail Kamara is chasing her own summer mystery.

Teenagers around Hampstead Heath have been going missing but soon return home – unharmed but vague about where they’ve been.

Aided only by her new friend Simon, her knowledge that magic is real, and a posse of talking foxes that think they’re spies, Abigail must venture into the wilds of Hampstead to discover who is luring the teenagers and more importantly – why?

We’ve met Abigail Kamara, Peter Grant’s precocious young cousin, before, but here we get a whole novella from her PoV, as she investigates some strange goings on in Hampstead, involving missing teenagers and a rather differently-haunted house, all with the help of the local foxes. She needs to use all her skills to avoid becoming one more of the missing teenagers.

This is fun, and fleshes out one of the many interesting side characters in the series. Abigail ends up making a powerful ally, and I hope this means we will see more of her as she grows into her magical learning.

Ben Aaronovitch.
Amongst Our Weapons.
Orion. 2022

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 4 June 2023

There is a world hidden underneath this great city…

The London Silver Vaults boast more locks than the Bank of England and more cameras than a celebrity punch-up. Not somewhere you can murder someone and vanish without a trace – except that's what happened.

The disappearing act, the reports of a blinding flash of light and memory loss amongst the witnesses all make this a case for Detective Constable Peter Grant of the Special Assessment Unit.

DC Grant is swiftly embroiled in a mystery that encompasses London’s tangled history, foreign lands and, most terrifying of all, the North!

And Peter must solve this case soon because back home his partner Beverley is expecting twins. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s about to encounter something – and somebody – that nobody ever expects…

A grisly and impossible murder. Sounds like another case for DC Peter Grant. This, and some strange rings, leads him on a trip northwards, and into the past, to stop a magical weapon let loose hundreds of years earlier.

This is an interesting opening out of the magical underworld, with a whole new set of people that may or may not have become Peter’s allies. And Beverley’s pregnancy is finally over, with members of both families involved. Peter may never be the same again.

Monty Python fans will appreciate the title.