Tuesday 8 November 2011

Ben Aaronovitch: Rivers of London (2011)

Rivers of London is a police procedural with a difference: Peter Grant is a trainee PC in the Metropolitan Police who discovers that he can see ghosts, and is immediately seconded to a tiny division of the force (tiny, as in - Peter brings the staff total up to two) which deals with crimes which have a supernatural element.

The supernatural unit police story has of course been done before, but not (as far as I know) with so much attention to the minutiae of police work. This juxtaposition of the supernatural and mundane is of course a source of humour, and Rivers of London is very funny in places. It reminded my strongly of Charles Stross' Laundry series, set in the Secret Service rather than the Met, combined with ideas about London mythology similar to those embodied in Neverwhere.

Aside from the narrative thread dealing with Peter's experiences of the early stages of becoming an apprentice wizard, there are two main parts to the crime story. One is a series of apparently senseless, bizarre and very violent murders, the first in Covent Garden being the occasion for Peter's discovery that he can see ghosts when a witness he starts to talk to turns out to be one. The more interesting idea is a territorial dispute between the spirits Father Thames and Mother Thames, the former of whom is not happy about the end of his territory coming at Teddington Lock (where the Thames starts being tidal); Mother Thames covers the part of the river through the city to the estuary and the mouth of the river.

Aaronovitch has been a writer for some time: he wrote one of the serials which made up the original Doctor Who, back in the eighties. So it is no surprise that Rivers of London is well constructed. If you stop to think, some of the details of the killings are rather nasty (enough to make this not a book for the squeamish), but the plot moves forwards fast enough that most readers will not dwell on the unpleasantness.

Enjoyable if not hugely original, well written and very funny. I'm definitely going to look out for the sequel, Moon Over Soho. My rating: 7/10.

Edition: Gollancz, 2011
Review number: 1434