Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch
Posted April 10, 2011on:
Midnight Riot (Rivers of London/UK) by Ben Aaronovitch
Published in 2011
where I got it: library
why I read it: Rivers of London was all anyone was talking about a few months ago! And it’s the book for my local SF book club.
Not unlike Isaac Newton, Probationary Constable Peter Grant asks too many questions. As I’m having flashbacks of Newton’s obsession with Alchemy in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, Peter is getting marked down on performance reviews for being too easily distracted. It’s not that he can’t focus, it’s that he’s interesting in everything. How everything works, why it works, what to change to make it work differently or better. Newton would be proud.
(by the way, go have some fun with some Midnight Riot themed madlibs here.
When Peter finds himself talking to a ghost at a murder scene, he’s either going crazy, or he’s got a touch of the gift for the supernatural. Shortly after, he’s assigned to a special branch of the Metropolitan Police. So special in fact, that other than Peter there is only one member, an Inspector Nightingale, who eschews modern technology, dresses too formally, and has a tenuous relationship with the rest of the Met, only partly because he happens to be a wizard. So Peter’s new life begins: copper by day, magical apprentice by night.
The pop culture jokes are hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud every few pages. There’s pop culture references, puns galore, and buckets of British slang that had me heading to Wikipedia for the translations (and boy does Austin Powers suddenly make more sense!). Don’t let the unfamiliar slang concern you, there really isn’t that much of it and you can figure it all out contextually.
I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy and historical fiction recently, so it was very refreshing to read something that takes place right now. Didn’t hurt either, that Midnight Riot is the most fun I’ve had in a while!
Along with his old police partner Leslie, Peter continues to work on regular investigations. You know, just the garden variety – people randomly going postal, a ghost claims he’s being eaten, and a major territory dispute between local spirits (which involves it’s own magnificent plot line regarding London’s geological past). And when Peter and Leslie catch an old fashioned Punch and Judy show, their lives will never be the same. If Peter is finally going to tell Leslie how he really feels about her, he’s running out of time.
A handful of snarky Harry Potter jokes, along with a number of reviewers making Harry Potter comparisons, I think has led some casual readers to think this may be a YA book. It’s NOT. If forced to say it was “like” something, I’d have to say it felt more like Torchwood than anything else, just swap out alien/unexplainable tech for supernatural. Swear words, murder, guns, blood, mayhem, skinny dipping water spirits, awkward conversations with the opposite sex. This be a playground for grown ups.
I love the idea of Peter being an apprentice. Apprenticeships imply knowledge being passed down in an intimate fashion, and an individual consciously making a long term commitment to gain that knowledge. This isn’t the kind of magical story where someone snaps their fingers and poof, Peter knows how to do spells. He learns them slowly, one at a time, practicing for hours, the way one might master a Chopin. Some folks might find those scenes slow or tedious, but seeing magic as a process to be learned got me to respect it all the more.
You can tell Aaronovitch had a ball writing this. The story is well planned out, the characters are fun to interact with, Nightingale remains a mystery, not to mention his housekeeper, Molly, who never says a word yet has far too many teeth. Aaronovitch could have written a quick little supernatural police story, and left it at that, but nope. The reader is provided with bits and pieces about Peter’s drug addicted jazz playing father, Nightingale’s mysterious past and that something went horribly wrong once in Germany, what happens if you jump off the right bridge at the right time, and all these other little nuggets of wonderfulness that flesh everything out.
Brilliant dry humor, vivid writing, horrifically scary and tough to kill bad guys, and spot on pacing, Midnight Riot is the beginning on a series that I can see myself having a long and satisfying relationship with. Good thing the sequel, Moon over Soho, just came out.
Interested in something intelligent and fun that’s full of mystery and surprise? Pick up Midnight Riot! go do it right now!