Fiction Reviews

Whispers Underground

(2012) Ben Aaronovitch, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 418pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09764-3


It is funny reading the blurb on the back cover of the latest Ben Aaronovitch novel as it refers to the DC Peter Grant novels, which for me echoes slightly all those crime novels with their various Inspectors or other ranks who are at the heart of an on-going series. As a contrast, Grant is a lowly DC, and while his adventures are grounded in police procedures and good old-fashioned police work, but they also get away from the normal police fare as it is possible to be, and what adds to the fun is the first-person narrative revealing the story as Grant discovers or uncovers the plot, as well as his reactions to another newly-discovered part of the fantastic world he now inhabits, all laced with some nice cynical one-liners. No doubt when he finishes with the police force he can set himself up as a laconic private detective.

For this adventure he is down in the depths of London as a stabbed body has been discovered in the tracks at Baker Street underground station, next to a few items which scream out that the supernatural is involved if you happen to be in the know. However, things are about to get complicated as the corpse turns out to be the son of a US Senator with powerful connections and soon the FBI are all over Grantís case, led by a beautiful and equally cynical FBI agent, Kimberley Reynolds who has devout religious beliefs and doesnít believe in magic. If Grant thought that working alongside the British Transport Police was going to be an issue, he was bigger problems coming his way including the on-going hunt for the Faceless Man.

This is the third in a series, following Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho wherein Peter Blake has resigned himself to a dead-end job in the police force as far away from the action as you can get, only to find that he is attuned to the supernatural, and boy, is there a lot of supernatural in London. That aptitude gets him headhunted by a secret division known blandly as the 'Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9' or 'The Folly' led by Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale who just happens to be a wizard, and suddenly Peter finds himself becoming the sorcererís apprentice.

What makes this series stand-out is Aaronovitchís obvious love and knowledge of London as Grant descends from the underground to forgotten, deeper, and deadlier depths, mined by the Victorians and those that came before them, not always of the human variety. Going deeper underground also brings to the fore the authorís historical knowledge of the city. This is mixed with a very realistic knowledge of police procedures and a convincing portrayal of the magical world and its rules that Aaronovitch has invented. Characters move on, the cast of characters expand slightly, and some may return, although Nightingale is sorely missed from most of the book given his thorny relationship with Grant.

All in all Whispers Underground is a good mix of the humorous and the creepy, and has nice chapter headings which are very appropriate Ė no, Iíll let you find that out for yourself. Followers will enjoy it, as will first-time readers of the series and then they can play catch up.

Ian Hunter

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