I am someone who you will often find saying “I don’t really care for science fiction or fantasy”, but I honestly don’t know who I’m fooling there. When ever I do say it, I have more than one friend who will raise an eyebrow and point to any number of books, films or TV shows I love before saying “you’re an idiot”. I don’t know why I keep labouring under my own misapprehension, and I’m about to wax rhapsodical over a book featuring a trainee wizard policeman, so maybe now is the time to say that I love sci-fi and fantasy and I don’t care who knows it.
Aaronovitch introduced us to PC Peter Grant in the first book of this series, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you live in America). Soho picks up pretty much straight away. Jazz musicians are dying in what looks like normal circumstances, but Grant detects vestigia (a magical aftertaste, if you like) about the corpse of the latest victim, saxophonist Cyrus Wilkinson. His subsequent investigation entangles him with the mysterious and beautiful Simone and then spills over into his personal life when his father, also a renowned jazz musician who has blown up his own career, becomes involved.
As with the first book, I loved everything about this except the main plot. The characters are wonderful, especially PC Grant. He narrates the story beautifully, with such warmth, wit and charm that if you don’t develop some kind of book crush on him, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. The sub plots, two of which spills over from the first book, mostly centre on Grant trying to train as a wizard and not get thrown out of the police force, all flesh out the characters, both main and supporting, beautifully. The biggest plus though, I think, is that Aaronovitch clearly loves London. I mean, he LOVES it. The passion he has for it pours out of every page, along with a vast knowledge of its current and historical geography. It makes the city as much a character in the book as anyone who is actually flesh and blood. If you love London but don’t enjoy fantasy fiction, you’ll still find this an enjoyable read.
What stops this being a full five star delight and knocks it down to a mere four star treat is the main plot. I had the same issues with the first book, in that the actual police investigation, magical or not, was a little too opaque. There’s a lot going on with this one, there’s a serial killer with a vagina dentata on the loose in addition to the jazz deaths and it all gets a little crowded. When Grant finally puts it all together as to who is killing the musicians and why, the revelation is a tad clumsy, I thought. Though the final image we are left with on that front is poetic, to say the least. That and a killer cliffhanger are more than enough to make up for some busy plotting. There’s two more already published in the PC Grant series, I will most definitely be reading them.