(2011) Ben Aaronvitch, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 392pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09756-8
I happened to be in Transreal bookshop in Edinburgh recently where Rivers of London was on one of the shelves in the new books section, along with another Aaronvitch title called Midnight Riots in an American paperback edition and another book which seemed to be part of the same series. I almost bought them. Lucky escape for me and my wallet because Midnight Riots is the American paperback version of Rivers of London, so do not buy them both. If you’re a cheapskate go for the US book, if not, pick the Gollancz hardback. (Editor: or get the paperback which should be out in the autumn of 2011.) It looks the part with a map of the city crookedly hand drawn and covered in the odd bloodstain.
For us genre anoraks Ben Aaronvitch is a familiar name as the writer of the classic (and I mean that in terms of being old-style and a true classic adventure) seventh Dr. Who story 'Remembrance of the Daleks'. But his new novel Rivers of London is not science fiction: it is fantasy and given its subject matter – that magic is real and the public has to be protected from it – we might well be in Harry Potter territory. Also, given its London setting with a strange and mysterious 'underworld' you cannot help but think of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, plus a whole host of CD Vertigo comics and novels, like the John Constantine Hellblazer series series and Mike Carey’s novels about freelance exorcist Felix Castor. Given the central role that the police take in the story you could also add the secret police department that features in China Mieville’s Kraken and let us not forget the works of Chris Fowler. All that aside – and it is a lot – River of London is a welcome addition to the fold, and while it is maybe not that original, it is witty and well-told enough for me not to cringe too much at the prospect of reading something that is almost 400 pages long, but only divided into 14 chapters.
Probationary cop Peter Grant is struggling to stay in the job, and trying hard to seduce a colleague, then he comes across a ghost, and has to take a statement from it, and suddenly ends up being inducted into the secret part of the police force that deals with such “otherness” and finds himself under the tutelage of Inspector Nightingale who just happens to be the last wizard in England. Soon Grant he has the title Detective Constable and is being lined up as a trainee wizard and having to deal with several out of the ordinary cases involving vampires, and trying to settle the difference between the river deities of London ranging from Old Father Thames himself to a series of water nymphs. If that wasn’t enough there is a spiteful spirit that is turning people into mannequins that look as if they have gone ten rounds with Mr. Punch, and something is stirring the residents of the city, moving them towards anarchy and chaos.
When it gets going Rivers of London reads like a police procedural, but it is not as grim, or as clichéd as it could be. Here we have a story populated by characters that seem real and different enough to care about. Rivers of London is weird and funny, clever and inventive, and a bit gruesome on the side. Is it terribly new and highly original? Probably not, but still it makes a welcome addition to the fold alongside the works of other authors listed above. Therefore, I’d say it is a highly enjoyable 4 out of 5 and makes me look forward to reading Aaranovitch’s other books which will make up his book series such as The Folly, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground, but until then I may just have to be content with jumping on a plane down to London in order to visit all the landmarks mentioned in the book.
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