Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“A mutilated body in Crawley means another murderer is on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil, who may either be a common serial killer or an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man — a man whose previous encounters I’ve barely survived. I’ve also got a case about a town planner going under a tube train and another about a stolen grimoire.
But then I get word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate. If there’s a connection to the Crawley case, I’ll be entering some tricky waters of jurisdiction with the local river spirits. We have a prickly history, to say the least.
Just the typical day for a magician constable.”
Ah, dry British humor, how I love you. I used to be confined to getting my fix from Terry Pratchett, but then Ben Aaronovitch showed up and combined that humor with fantasy-based CSI and I was a happy happy reader. It’s not the laugh out loud type of humor, but it does have that sarcastic edge that will get a grin out of you and make you appreciate the prose that much more.
Something to note about this series is that the author does more than just vaguely nod his head at the kind of diversity that you find in London (or anywhere, really). Not only is Grant Jamaican, but many of the other characters are non-white. Even better, Aaronovitch doesn’t go with the all-too-familiar assumption that if a character’s race isn’t mentioned, they must be white. To combat this, he always identifies a character’s race, even if they are white, so you don’t fall into the trap of that assumption.
The plot has elements of its own standalone tale, but just about everything ties back into the Faceless Man from earlier books. A renegade mage who commits terrible acts, the Folly devotes a lot of its time and resources trying to track him down. A nice touch here is that the Folly has the cooperation of the London police, who may not always believe the things that happen, but they are willing to call in the mages when necessary. I suppose this is like any other organization—there are always those willing to pass the buck. At least there’s some acknowledgement by non-mages that there are things beyond their understanding.
What I enjoy the most about this story is the little touches: the way everyone backs up when Grant is trying new magic, lest he blow things up; the Folly’s servant Molly working her way methodically through a cookbook with mixed results; Grant’s dog Toby functioning as a living magic detector. The author weaves in these small details and really brings the characters and the setting to life. I’ve wanted to visit London for a long time, and this just makes that desire all the stronger.
It’s been too long since Aaronovitch’s last book, and I was excited to get my hands on the newest Peter Grant novel. While I, of course, don’t like going too long between book releases, Broken Homes was worth the wait. Any fan of urban fantasy should be reading this series, because it’s one of the best and most inventive that you’re going to come across.