(2019) Ben Aaronovitch, Gollancz, £7.99 pbk, 180pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22432-2
This is another of Aaronovitch’s 'Rivers of London' series though I ought to point out that it takes place nowhere near London. The story is set in the German city of Trier so this time the rivers are the Mosel and its tributary the Kyll. Apart from that little difference, this is more of the same; if you have read and enjoyed any of the other books in the series I think you will like this one as well.
Tobias Winter is an apprentice in the Abteilung KDA of the Bundeskriminalamt, i.e. the Federal Criminal Police department which deals with Complex and Diffuse Matters. That is another way of saying that he is a trainee magician in a little heard of, but sometimes very important, police department.
A dog walker has found a body, down at the bottom of a vineyard. It is covered in the ‘noble rot’ - a fungal growth best known for infecting grapes. The particularly odd thing is that the victim was alive and healthy only a few hours beforehand, and it was the sudden and intense onset of this fungus in the victim’s lungs that caused the death. As the local police process the scene they find themselves ticking enough boxes to realise they need rather special help and so Tobias gets a call. Checking the scene he finds a faint trace of vestigium - magic is involved somewhere along the line, though it feels strange and rather old.
He finds himself teamed up with local cop Vanessa Sommer (yes, it is Sommer and Winter). Their investigations start at the Stracker Winery, where they find that the owners have long been leaving gifts for the Goddess of the River. Leaving their own gift, they are soon contacted by the Goddess of the Kyll, or Kelly as she prefers to be known, and her young charge Morgane, the new Goddess of the Mosel.
They discover that the victim had belonged to the self-titled Good Wine Drinking Association, a small group of local, middle-aged men. This group of friends had decided to enliven their lives and broaden their minds by such activities as attending theatres and concerts, taking evening classes, and so on. All very innocent. Then there is another death, again a rather unusual one.
As Tobias investigates further, with the help of Vanessa, Kelly, and Morgane, a story from many years earlier slowly pieces itself together. Meanwhile, Vanessa proves to be remarkably open to the idea of magic in policing.
To tell you more would be to give away the story, the whys and wherefores, but it all works together very nicely. It is an enjoyable romp combining routine police work with a little magic; it is nicely balanced and laced with a humorous approach throughout. I suspect we will be hearing more from Tobias Winter and Vanessa Sommer - and I look forward to it.
At a mere 180 pages, this is short compared to most current titles but the story does not suffer. Indeed, I found it worked very well and confirms my long-held belief that far too many books are unnecessarily long.
By the way, if you get the chance I recommend a visit to Trier. Having wandered its streets I could picture Tobias and Vanessa making their way round the city; the Roman remains, the streets and the market, the local wines and beers, and the pleasure of walking alongside the Mosel. As German cities go, it might be old but it is all the better for it. It is also an interesting setting for a magical investigation.
See also Ian's take on The October Man.
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