Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London

a review by Nalini Haynes

Rivers of London introduces Peter Grant, who is nearing the end of his probationary period in the Metropolitan Police Service, expecting to be transferred to a paperwork desk job, when he interrogates a ghost at the scene of a murder. Peter is of mixed-race; a crack about passing himself off as an Obama look-alike gives you an idea of his natural skin colour. We learn more about his background and meet his parents, but it is really Peter’s uniqueness that caused him to fail his A levels, just as this uniqueness brings him to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, a wizard in the Service.

Lesley May is a peer of Peter’s, a classmate and good copper with unresolved sexual tension creating an interesting relationship between the two. They work well together, even after being transferred into different sections at the close of their probationary service.

Nicholas Wallpenny is the ghost who lurks near the Actor’s Church, near an apparent locus of mayhem and violence.

This urban fantasy unfolds as comedy first and mystery second, with the mystery taking the driver’s seat as the plot accelerates through twists and turns, heading towards the conclusion. A lot of popular mainstream SF and Fantasy seems to have been comedically referenced in the story in one-liners or in Peter’s internal dialogue in some form or another. This is laugh out loud humour at its best.

Rivers of London would be an urban fantasy/comedy ‘masterpiece’ except for one thing – the editing lets it down, bringing it down to ‘highly recommended’ with a caution. There are a string of comments about Peter destroying his mobile phone. Later an anecdote describing the destruction of a mobile phone reads like it was the first mobile that was ruined. It seems that the anecdote was added in the wrong sequence. There are a few sentences that do not make grammatical sense, although the meaning is clear. Nicholas Wallpenny becomes Thomas Wallpenny at least once. Peter’s magical lessons are described in detail, then suddenly we’re given a paragraph or two that retrospectively accelerates his learning to fit the plot. A slight rewrite to work it into the storyline smoothly was in order. However, this is still a very intelligent, funny story that has left me waiting for the sequel.

Highly recommended.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011.