Friday, 21 October 2016

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

 
published 2011
 
Rivers of London
I saw [a] man watching me from the across the Piazza. What with the proliferation of gay pubs, clubs and chat rooms, it is no longer necessary for the single man about town to frequent public toilets and graveyards on freezing nights to meet the man of their immediate needs. Still, some people like to risk frostbite on their nether regions – don’t ask me why.

He was about one-eighty in height – that’s six foot in old money – and dressed in a beautifully tailored suit that emphasised the width of his shoulders and a trim waist. I thought early forties with long, finely boned features and brown hair cut into an old-fashioned side parting. It was hard to tell in the sodium light but I thought his eyes were grey. He carried a silver-topped cane and I knew without looking that his shoes were handmade. All he needed was a slightly ethnic younger boyfriend and I’d have had to call the cliché police. 

When he strolled over to talk to me I thought he might be looking for that slightly ethnic boyfriend after all. ‘Hello,’ he said. He had a proper RP accent, like an English villain in a Hollywood movie. ‘What are you up to?’

 
Rivers of London 2


commentary: This book came to me highly recommended: Daniel Milford Cottam and TracyK both mentioned it to me. This is the first book in a series, and Tracy’s review at Bitter Tea and Mystery includes a very interesting discussion of Urban Fantasy- her blogpost would be most helpful for anyone thinking of trying the books. For some reason Daniel and I got into a discussion of the books in the comments to a book by Peter Robinson

I did like Rivers of London very much – it is an easy and entertaining read. A police procedural in a recognizable London has been overlaid with a strong supernatural element, and there is a mysterious plague on the loose: one that makes people unexpectedly violent. Our hero Peter Grant is being trained in a special department for magic investigations. There are hints of Harry Potter, of books like recent favourites The Blondes and Station 11. There are ghosts, zombies, vampires and spells. It is all done with great confidence and humour. And, even better, Aaronovitch has a good stab at describing people’s clothes.

The Division of the Thames, and the Mama and Father of the river, were wonderful – this strand reminded me both of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Jez Butterworth play Jerusalem (featuring Mark Rylance so memorably) – the river daughters in all their glory were particularly well done.

Aaronovitch seemed to be trying to mention as many kinds of popular culture as possible – from Dr Who to Coronation St, from opera (Billy Budd?) to Punch and Judy. Good for him.

There are now six books in the series.

The top picture is of the suave singer-songwriter Ivor Novello in his prime, from Library of Congress. The picture of policeman and clown, from the Tyne and Wear archives, seemed very much in the spirit of the book.












22 comments:

  1. I liked the first one quite a bit but haven't gone on to the others yet. I liked his stuff from when he wrote for the later years of 1980s Doctor Who in fact. Really should try the subsequent books too ...

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    1. I really like the way for some people the Dr Who connection is all-important, and others couldn't care less! An interesting character, for sure. I will probably go on to read more of the series.

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  2. You know, it's funny, Moira, but normally, the supernatural/fantasy element doesn't appeal to me particularly. And yet, this one sounds interesting, and I do like the setting. I thought the same thing when I read it on Tracy's blog, too. Hmm.....may have to try this.

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    1. Yes, Margot, just like me - not my normal kind of thing, but I did enjoy it, and other people's recommendations are always the best. I think - again, like me - you would enjoy the crime elements.

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  3. I loved the first one, and this review reminded me that I really should get on with reading the rest of the series. Great pics!

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    1. Thanks, I was so pleased with the police/clown one! And yes, it's nice to know there are more of the books out there waiting for us to have a minute...

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  4. I really love the stuff about Peter's mother and her background and the way it relates to Mama Thames. You get a sense that Aaronovitch REALLY knows what he's writing about - he uses similar themes in his Doctor Who stuff, including in the novels, so I wonder if there is an autobiographical element to it, although I know next to nothing about his personal background. But it feels like he REALLY knows what he writes about.

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    1. And thanks again for the tipoff Daniel! The book was indeed a great mixture of the weird and wonderful, and very recognizable character drawing.

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  5. I'm very interested in why that clown is dressed in half of a monkey suit. What on earth is going on in that circus? Aaronovich needs to write a book about that very weird photo!

    I like this series invigorated by his sense of humor and his oddball characters. Reading Aaronovich reminded me of Douglas Adams and the Dirk Gently books. This is the kind of paranormal genre blending book (I loathe that publisher's term "urban fantasy") that I genuinely enjoy. So many of them are derivative rehashes or just plain awful.

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    1. I know, that picture is the best, isn't it? When I found it I was just staring at it for ages. Impossible to fathom what could possibly be going on.
      I don't venture into these genres very often, so I think I got lucky.

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    2. I am SO glad someone else sees the monkey suit. I thought I was going mad....

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    3. Maybe it's a magical effect Daniel....

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  6. Psst - Tag and title may need a wee spellcheck.

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    1. Thanks, how embarrassing! I think I have put it right now...

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    2. HA! I spelled his name with the T from memory. Then thought it looked wrong and checked the title of the post. So I took it out. "That'll learn me."

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    3. Shows you should never trust me!

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  7. Thanks for the review, Moira. I have read quite a few reviews of this book. I'd certainly like to dig into Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series.

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    1. Enough of our friends are pushing them now Prashant! I surrendered to the inevitable, maybe it's time you gave in too...

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  8. Thanks for the mention, Moira, and I am glad you enjoyed the book. The books are really fun and entertaining, with the added plus of a mystery and policemen. I had just been thinking I needed to read the 4th book in the series. The first three had such lovely covers (at least in the UK editions) which really drew me to the series in the first place.

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    1. Thank you Tracy for the tipoff... And yes the covers are lovely. I just wish I didn't have so many books to read, I don't know when I'll get to the next in this series.

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  9. I think that books like these are pointing towards a fresh direction in police procedural. Even a few years ago you knew exactly what you would be reading when you picked up a novel with a Scotland Yard type setting (grumpy older policeman, violence, prostitution, drugs etc.) It's no longer the case. This, and Paul Cornell's SHADOW POLICE novels mix supernatural and police procedural in an inventive and entertaining way. Other than having the supernatural not explained away at the end, you can see elements of this in the past. In that splendid '60s series DEPARTMENT S impossible crimes were busted, whilst Carter Dickson's DEPARTMENT OF QUEER COMPLAINTS must be the grand-daddy of these sorts of police forces. Indeed, didn't Sherlock Holmes refuse to be associated with any crime that didn't tend towards the bizarre? Nice to see that authors are recognising the fantastical roots of crime fiction.

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    1. This is another strand that I would have avoided in the past, but am now drawn to. I liked my crime novels straightforward, but now am happy with some extra elements. And even someone as gritty and real as Tana French will occasionally bring in something inexplicable.

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