Fiction Reviews

The Hanging Tree

(2016) Ben Aaronovitch, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 387pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13257-3


Apart from being one of the guests of honour at last year’s Fantasycon, Ben Aaronovitch is a regular at the Edinburgh Book Festival, either appearing by himself, or in the company of someone like Paul Cornell who also writes supernatural police procedural novels set in London, but ones that are a lot more darker, grittier and hard-hitting. Aaronovitch has said that in creating the series and the character of Peter Grant that he wanted to break the mould in crime writing rather like the way Columbo did with TV detectives in that the series starring the late Peter Falk was not a whodunit with the killer revealed at the end; rather we know who the killer is from the start, and they, of course, think they have committed the perfect crime before Lieutenant Columbo shambles into the crime scene. Likewise, Aaronovitch wanted to create a lead character who is not a tortured soul, say one who has lost their partner, lost their spouse, lost their children, has a dark cloud hanging over them, is a secret alcoholic, or drug take, been busted down the ranks for some sort of misconduct; or all of the above. He just wanted to create an ordinary, regular guy, but put him into extraordinary situations, starting with bumping into a ghost in Covent Garden (as you do). Thus, five books after his appearance in Rivers of London, we join Peter Grant in his sixth adventure with the obvious caveat, that if you have not read any of the previous books you really should go back to the square one and start with the first in the series.

Even though this book came out in 2016, fans were no doubt saying “at last” given that the previous five books in the series had been published in a relatively short period of time, but there was a two year gap before this book, number six, appeared, and there has been no new novel in 2017, instead we have had a novella – The Furthest Station being published with more novellas in the pipeline involving supporting characters and rival agencies. Fans would also be saying “at last” because after Foxglove Summer Peter Grant is back in London, on his old stomping ground, reacting with friends and family and on the trail of arch-nemesis the Faceless Man. Given that Peter is back in London and living with his girlfriend Beverley who happens to be a river goddess, things couldn’t be better, except when Bev’s sister Cecilia Tyburn, another river goddess, appears to call in a favour as her daughter has got into a little spot of bother. The daughter in question is one, Olivia, who is a bit of a teenage yah – the sort of person you might see in Made in Chelsea, and she’s unfortunately been at a party at a very posh, luxury building called One Hyde Park where she and friends broke into an unoccupied apartment, and partied hard, except a reveller has died of a drug overdose, but the post mortem shows that the victim has dabbled in magic. Cue, Peter and the involvement of the Folly, much to the disgust of the regular cops in the Metropolitan Police who don’t like all that magic shenanigans and the general mayhem that follows.

While The Hanging Tree might appear to be more of the same - humour, action, suspense, a multi-cultural cast, etc, etc, we do even get a bit of pathos - being in love with a river goddess is only going to end up one way, isn’t it? This time around we have some new characters popping up at the Folly, and maybe not enough of other, well-established ones, and into the mix we also have sought-after tomes, fairy tale tricksters and spells that were once lost, but may be recoverable if the Faceless Man does not get there first. Oh, yes, and an ending that sets up book seven, appearing in 2018? Hint, hint, Mr. B. A.  Recommended, of course.

Ian Hunter

See also Mark's take on The Hanging Tree.

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