Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
Supernatural police procedurals can offer a wealth of plot to readers. There’s mystery, there’s hard-boiled detective work, there’s some kind of otherworldly being, and often enough there’s a touch of romance or magic. Midnight Riot packs all of the above into an entertaining and highly readable novel.
London beat cop Peter Grant is about to be assigned out to a boring desk job when he gets involved in a very unusual murder case: the victim was apparently decapitated with a baseball bat. As this is impossible for a normal human to achieve, the police are understandably confused. But Grant gets some information about the murder from a strange informant—one who turns out to be a ghost.
His interest in the case leads him to Inspector Nightingale, the one-man task force assigned to solve cases with supernatural involvement. Grant is now Nightingale’s apprentice, learning not only magic but the secret lore of London, including how to approach the various gods, goddesses and other beings that rule its streets. As more bodies pile up, Grant must race to find the killer’s identity before all hell literally breaks loose.
I have to admire the ingenuity of the author’s plot work. Without giving too much away, there’s a significant infusion of popular British folklore involved. And it makes it very clear that stories of that type can take on a life of their own, quite independent of anything that normal humans may want. With older fairy tales being much more bloody and violent than anything created today, you can imagine the mayhem that crops up when an old tale enters the picture.
Just like stories have a life beyond their telling, so too do concepts. In this case, London is populated with entities that embody aspects of London and its character, such as Lady Thames and a few others that are mentioned but not yet seen. It allows London to become a character of its own, one that drives the plot forward just as much as the human (or supernatural) characters do. And I find this to be appropriate, because London is a very old city, and even though many of its buildings are more recent, the city’s roots lie more than one thousand years in the past. That kind of history is bound to leave a mark.
On the surface level, Aaronovitch does a good job at painting London for his readers. Many of us (me included) have never been there, and although we can’t actually picture the streets and byways, we can certainly get a good feel for them. Some tidbits of history thrown in will sweeten the pot.
Grant works well as the book’s main character, driven and slightly eccentric. It’s a wise mix of character traits for the scenario in which he finds himself. There are hints at his backstory, and those hints are apparently going to be further explored in book two. As it is, the author gives just enough to tantalize and leaves readers wanting to find out more.
The only real complaint I had with this novel was that the concept of time is a bit off. More than once, I started a chapter thinking that its events were happening right after those of the previous chapter, only to find out a couple of pages later that days or even weeks had passed. It’s a small quibble in an otherwise engaging story.
Midnight Riot is a fast paced novel, full of action and wittily drawn characters. I’m really looking forward to the second book, Moon Over Soho. This series is definitely one that I’ll be following.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on February 22, 2011.