For years I’ve put off reading Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, even when it was on the Dymocks Top 101 list for awhile. I always thought the premise was a bit silly, and the blurb turned me off a bit – crime and magic and… dead people? Not for me. But a couple of weeks ago I heard Kate Evans interviewing Aaronovitch on ABC Radio National Books and she said she’d read the first book in preparation for the interview, then the next four books in quick succession, she had just loved them so much.
To be fair, the premise is a little silly, but in a good way. In a hilarious way actually. It’s like a grown up version of Harry Potter (which is no bad thing) about a secret branch of the London police that deals with magic and mysterious incidents that happen to be supernatural. In fact, Harry gets a mention in the opening chapters:
‘You put a spell on the dog,’ I said as we left the house.
‘Just a small one,’ said Nightingale.
‘So magic is real,’ I said. ‘Which makes you a … what?’
‘Like Harry Potter?’
Nightingale sighed. ‘No,’ he said, ‘not like Harry Potter.’
‘In what way?’
‘I’m not a fictional character,’ said Nightingale.
The main character, PC Peter Grant, is swept up in it all when he discovers he has interviewed a ghost as a key witness in a murder case. Turns out PC Grant has a bit of a knack for this kind of thing, despite being a pretty average policeman (a bit of a daydreamer to be sure).
What really carries the story along though is Aaronovitch’s detailed descriptions of London and its history. He has said the books are a kind of odd love letter to London, the city he grew up in, the city he loves. This absolutely comes through in the story, with a richness of description that could only come from someone who knows their home town back-to-front. Convent Garden, Camden Market and the London City streets come alive with his enthusiasm.
Then there’s just the general hilarity within the whole story. PC Grant rarely seems to take himself and the whole situation seriously:
Reluctantly I opened my carryall and donned my uniform jacket and my bloody stupid helmet. For the record, we all hate the bloody helmet, which is useless in a fight and makes you look like a blue biro with the top still on.
I won’t give too much away because I really enjoyed this book, and if you’re up for a quirky, quintessentially British (with a twist) read, you should give it a go as well!