“I never worry about theological questions,” said Nightingale. “They exist, they have power and they can breach the Queen’s peace – that makes them a police matter.”
Rivers of London is the first in a series of novels about PC Peter Grant – the 6th and most recent one having just been published last month. The good thing about this series is the fact that although all the books are connected, each story is also written in a way that makes it stand alone, with a neat conclusion to the crimes Grant is called in to solve with his unique abilities. I like this about series sometimes – there’s no pressure on the reader, and although each of these novels does end with a cliffhanger, they also end with a resolution.
So, PC Grant. A London copper whose trying to work his way up the ranks, but it doesn’t seem to be working out as quickly as he might have hoped. What he really wants is some action, but when action finds him, he’s not too sure what to do about it, mainly because it involves taking a statement from a witness who has been dead for 120 years. Suddenly, Grant finds himself transferred to the department of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England, not only to solve the mystery of the malevolent spirit terrorising the streets of London, but also to become Nightingale’s apprentice, learning the ins and outs of the most hidden and most magical work of the Met Police.
There are several standout points to these novels that perhaps take the magical edge off, for those who might be put off by that kind of thing. I feel the need to say here that this is definitely not Harry Potter. Firstly, there’s the humour. Grant’s voice is all at once believing and disbelieving, sarcastic, dramatic, and blasé. He accepts his new role and his magical abilities fairly quickly, but doesn’t lose the pragmatic and well trained voice of a policeman walking the streets of London. This leads on to the seamless mixture of the real and imaginary – the author’s knowledge of the Met combines so well with the fictional department led by Inspector Nightingale.
“Conflict resolution,” said Nightingale. “Is this what they teach at Hendon these days?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “But don’t worry, they also teach us how to beat people with phone books and the ten best ways to plant evidence.”
My favourite thing, though, is probably the detailed description of London – again, Aaronovich has great knowledge of the city, both modern and historical, and it really brings the story to life. There are lots of lovely references to old London; the Thames and its tributaries, the old streets and markets, and spiritual traditions too. These blend wonderfully with the image of modern London – it felt so realistic that at certain points I found myself thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, there really could be a branch of the Met dedicated to keeping the peace between the magical entities of London town….
“Fuck me, I thought. I can do magic.”