Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic. (

I meant to get this review written in time for this book's release date of yesterday here in the states so shame on me. Midnight Riot is the most fun I've had when reading a new urban fantasy author in quite some time. I knew I was going to like it when I read this line from page five (my copy is an ARC mind you), when Peter realizes that the witness he's questioning is, in fact, a ghost: "Right, I thought, just because you've gone mad doesn't mean you should stop acting a policeman." I just love that British stiff upper lip.

Peter Grant is a nice guy. He's the mixed race son of a has-been jazz musician heroin addict and an African woman who has an office cleaning business. He's open-minded and considerate and has a crush on his fellow cop and friend, Leslie. He's intelligent and an affinity for science. Peter has his hands full pretty quickly right off the bat: much to this relief, he gets assigned to Nightingale, the Detective Chief Inspector who handles all the supernatural cases but is still respected by his peers (I appreciated that Aaronovitch didn't make Nightingale or Peter into "Spooky" Mulder); he becomes a wizard's apprentice and moves into Nightingale's building; and there's a murderer running amok, killing indiscriminately (or so it seems) and making people's heads implode, putting Peter right in the middle of the action, much to his dismay. There's lots of action in Midnight Riot, although very little of it is pretty (women and children are not exempt). The victims become possessed and be uncharacteristically and unreasonably full of rage (from page 120 from my ARC):
   I turned just in time to see Dr. Framline charge up the street brandishing a stick half as tall as he was. Behind him came his date from the gastropub, yelling his name in confusion. I ran as fast as I could, passing the woman quickly, but there was no way I could make Dr. Framline before he reached his target.
   The courier didn't even put an arm up to defend himself when Dr. Framline clubbed him hard on the shoulder with the stick. I saw the man's right arm jerk brokenly and his hand lose its grip on the bike, which began to topple sideways.
   "The more you take," yelled the doctor, raising the stick again, "the better it is for you."
The lack of buildup to these attacks made them seem all the more senseless and awful for me and overall, that's a good thing. For the reader, anyway. There is the occasional history lesson that pops up in Midnight Riot but as they came from Peter's humorous point of view, I didn't mind them.

I wish that the PTB has stuck with the UK title for Midnight Riot - Rivers of London. Midnight Riot has meaning too but Rivers of London feels to me to be more appropriate. That would mainly be because of all those "gods and goddesses" of England's riverway structure, like Mama Thames and the Old Man of the Thames, who keep popping up. Peter is made into their intermediary; into his lap falls the responsibility to be arbitrator of their differences to get them to come to an agreeable treaty to prevent a war between the two camps. England would not have fared well if Peter failed.

Midnight Riot is a police procedural with a supernatural twist. With an unusual (to say the least) villain and an appealing protagonist, this book was an enjoyable read. I have preordered the sequel, Moon Over Soho, out on March 1, 2011.

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