Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch (2011)

London probationary constable Peter Grant hopes to become a detective, but his tendency to be distracted by details that others think are unimportant has landed him in the Case Progression Unit. That’s where the paperwork gets processed and where the biggest danger is a paper cut.

While collecting evidence from a crime scene, Peter finds an eye-witness who appears to be a ghost. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale is in charge of the secret police division that investigates crime involving the undead, magic, various deities or anything else that could be classified as weird.

Nightingale has always — and always turns out to be a long time indeed — worked alone, but incidences of the strange and bizarre seem to be increasing around town. Enter Peter Grant, the distractible cop with a natural ability to “sniff” vestiges of magic and the first official apprentice wizard in the history of the division.

I starting reading this on the recommendation of one of my readers. I’ve never been led astray by a reader’s recommendation and this was no exception. The is the first book in a series in which there are three books to date, but hopefully more to come.

I read a lot of mysteries and a lot of fantasy. Peter Grant is much more of a cop than he is a wizard, though that will probably change as the series progresses. In this first book, despite a strong magical theme, it is also a real cop thriller. There’s a lot of wonderful description about the life of a constable in the London metropolitan police. There’s even more background about growing up as a racially mixed, working class kid in London. Like whipped cream on a sundae, the book provides rich detail about everything from the social interaction of Londoners on the underground at rush hour, to architectural disasters and bomb craters … and the gods and goddesses who care for the streams and rivers of London. Lots about them.

Aaronovitch’s writing is witty — sometimes downright funny — and intelligent. His ironic humor keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace. Peter Grant feels very real. I feel like I’ve met him, would recognize him at a party. He’s got a history. He’s smart and intuitive, but also human. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He actually works at his job.

I didn’t just read the book, I also bought it from Audible and have listened to it twice. Once for the fun, and the second time to pick up details I might have missed first time around. There is a lot of detail. There’s humor, danger, magic and then there’s mood. Wherever Peter Grant goes, you are treated to a description so thorough you can pretty much see the whole thing … smell and taste it, too.

If you like audiobooks, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is a marvelous narrator. He has the knack of making the book and its characters come alive but being non-intrusive so you see the book in your mind and don’t notice the narrator at all. This is exactly as it should be when the narrator and the books are perfectly matched.

I’m enjoying the second book even more than the first. Peter has begun to have more self-confidence, both as a police officer and as a wizard. I can sense where the series is going and I’m glad to be going along for the ride.

If you’re looking for a new series, this is a good one! I have a feeling it’s going to get even better as it matures.

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