by Ben Aaronovitch
Review by Drew Bittner
Del Rey Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 034552425X
Date: 25 January 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Probationary Constable Peter Grant is not facing a bright future. First he's watching a murder scene overnight to make sure it isn't disturbed, then he's having a conversation with an eyewitness--who happens to be a ghost.
Suffice it to say, Grant is not having a very ordinary start to his career in law enforcement.
This is the start of Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. Taken under the wing of Inspector Thomas Nightingale (who happens to be the force's resident wizard), Grant begins an apprenticeship in wizardry and investigation. He learns how to generate a ball of light and send it flying--his very first "spell"--as he and Constable Leslie May put together the pieces of this gruesome murder.
They discover that the murderer was himself using magic to change his features, but the spell went wrong and caused truly horrific injuries to the murderer's face. Then another murder crops up, with similar disfigurements, and thus a pattern starts to emerge.
Grant moves into Nightingale's home--the vast mansion known as the Folly--and learns why magic disrupts technology (spell casting destroys the silicon chips used in modern electronics, for one thing). He also begins to see connections between these murders and the story of Punch and Judy...especially as it relates to a long-dead murder victim, an actor, who may be making a return to the stage.
In the midst of the investigation, Grant is called upon to mediate a dispute between the two rulers of the Thames River; their human followers are fighting it out over territory. Even demigods must obey the law, says Nightingale, and thus Grant comes to know Mama Thames and her daughters. He also gets an education in accepting the hospitality of the nearly-immortal and the etiquette of making threats.
As the murders increase in number and violence, Grant has his hands full. An attempt to snare a ghostly suspect goes horribly wrong, stripping Grant of resources, allies and authority at precisely the wrong moment. If he's going to succeed, he's going to have to outthink a treacherous enemy, even as the Royal Opera House erupts in chaos...and central London is engulfed in a supernatural riot.
Aaronovitch has created a fun and funny character in Grant, who displays wit more than snark (a welcome attitude) and shows he can think on his feet. The latter is an invaluable asset, as Aaronovitch puts him through some truly challenging situations. Along the way, we become familiar with his family--including a father who was once a well-regarded jazz musician, only to lose it all to addiction and alcoholism--and his new acquaintances, including the inhuman and silent maid Molly and Dr. Walid, whose skill in magical forensic autopsy is only a sideline to his work as a world-famous gastroenterologist.
Then there's Leslie May and Beverly Brook, two young women who become important to Grant. Well, he's attracted to both of them, but one is a co-worker and the other is the daughter of Mama Thames, so both offer some serious challenges to romance.
The plot is fast-paced and well constructed, providing an entire new ecology for supernatural London's waterways and offering a clever murder mystery as well as an introduction to Peter Grant and the two worlds he must straddle. It's a great start to what will hopefully be a long series of adventures.