Fiction Reviews

What Abigail Did That Summer

(2021) Ben Aaronovitch, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 197pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22434-6


Ah, this is more like it, this is the real deal and a lot better than the previous Rivers of London novella, The October Man which was set in Germany, featuring a brand new cast of characters, who will no doubt crop up in future novels, and while Aaronovitch did his research and nailed the German locale, I thought the plot was a bit fuzzy and inconclusive, the literary equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders and saying ďhey, magic happensĒ.  What you need is a girl with attitude, in spades, and thatís what Aaranovitch gives us here with an adventure involving Peter Grantís teenage cousin, Abigail Kamara, who can be filed under ďGhost hunter, fox whisperer, troublemakerĒ, with a major in the troublemaking department.

We are back in the summer of 2013 and Natali, an old friend of Abigailís gets in touch with her out of the blue and wants to meet her on Hampstead Heath.  It is there that she meets Simon, also invited to the Heath by someone he knows, and it becomes apparent that teenagers are being lured to the Heath, then going missing, not for long, but long enough, only to reappear safe and sound, except they are a little bit confused about what happened to them.  All very mysterious and well dodgy, which is enough to light a fire under Abigail, and she is on the case, with Simon in tow, ducking and diving and trying to keep out of the way of those pesky adults who would soon put the kibosh on her investigations.  Although a girl canít do everything by herself, even with a new friend who is on the spectrum, and is a bit of a focused boy genius at times, with an alarming disregard for his own health and safety, so what else do you need?  Her cousin, Peter, is away, investigating another case of missing children so this is where the fox whisperer part comes in, as the foxes are soon on the case, giving Abigail and Simon some much-needed surveillance back up, in exchange for being allowed to snack on human food and receive the odd tummy rub, and we even get a foxy nod to Terry Pratchett for the sharp-eyed amongst you.

The story isnít very dark and reminded me slightly of David Mitchellís Slade House given the plot centering around a very creepy, old house which doesnít want to let you go, but itís a fun read with Aaronovitch fleshing out the character of Abigail who seems to have a Mastermind-like knowledge of the London railway system and a sharp mind and even sharper tongue.  Fortunately there are some footnotes by Professor Postmartin to translate for older (i.e. anyone who isnít a teenager) readers.  Apart from the foxes, other welcome additions to the cast are Simon and his mum who carries her own bag of official secrets, which will no doubt be opened again in future adventures.

As the novella is only 196 pages long, and consists of 40 chapters, it fairly races along, although it might be an idea to skip over the map that appears in colour at the start of the book and is repeated in black and white a couple of pages later as it does pinpoint a few locations where events occur and encounters with other characters take place.  Why spoil the fun by getting some clues about what is going to unfold?  Abigail didnít.  Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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