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Friday, August 10, 2012


Author:  Ben Aaronovitch
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor3-4
Publisher and Titles:  Del Rey
     1     Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London) (novel, 2/2011)
     1.5  "The Home Crowd Advantage" (free on-line short story, 2014)
     2     Moon Over Soho (novel, 3/2011)
     3     Whispers Under Ground (novel, 7/2012)
     4     Broken Homes (novel, 2/2014)
     4.5  Body Work (graphic novels: compilation of five issues, 2015-2016)
     5     Foxglove Summer (novel, 1/2015)
     5.2  Night Witch (series of five graphic novels, 2016)
     5.5  Black Mould (series of five graphic novels, 2016-2017)
     5.7  "The Furthest Station" (TBA)
     6     The Hanging Tree (novel, 1/31/2017)
     6.2  Detective Stories (TBA)
     6.5  Cry Fox (TBA)

Aaronovitch has written several short stories that are included in special Waterstones U.K. editions of his novels, none currently available in the U.S. Here is a summary of those stories, with a few helpful links. Bonus: Click HERE to listen to an official RIVERS OF LONDON Rap by Doc Brown and Mikis Michaelides.
> "The Domestic" (in Whispers Underground) features Peter and Toby the dog investigating an elderly woman's house that she claims is haunted by her late husband.
> "The Cockpit" (in Broken Homes) is set in a Waterstone's bookshop in London (where Aaronovitch may have once worked). Peter and Lesley must placate a poltergeist that is throwing books around the shop.
> "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Granny," which apparently functions as an epilogue of sorts to Foxglove Summer.
> "King of Rats": When a self-styled King of the Rats crashes a corporate do hosted by Fleet and Tyburn, naturally the Folly are called in. Peter and Kumar have to determine whether his majesty is the legitimate ruler of the rat nation or is, instead, a sad man with a rodent fixation. And they’d better do it fast before some irate Rivers decide to embark on a bit of DIY pest control. Click HERE to read about the 2015 occasion for which this story was written. Click HERE to view the video, and click HERE to read the transcription.
This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/16/2017 to include a review of The Hanging Tree, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five novels. Currently, this post does not include reviews of the series-related novellas, stories, and graphic novels included in the list above.

                     NOVEL 6:  The Hanging Tree                     
     Suspicious deaths are not usually the concern of Police Constable Peter Grant or the Folly—London’s police department for supernatural cases—even when they happen at an exclusive party in one of the flats of the most expensive apartment blocks in London. But the daughter of Lady Ty, influential goddess of the Tyburn river, was there, and Peter owes Lady Ty a favor.

     Plunged into the alien world of the super-rich, where the basements are bigger than the houses, where the law is something bought and sold on the open market, a sensible young copper would keep his head down and his nose clean. 

     But this is Peter Grant we’re talking about.He’s been given an unparalleled opportunity to alienate old friends and create new enemies at the point where the world of magic and that of privilege intersect. Assuming he survives the week.


     WARNING! If you have not read the previous novels in this series, you will be at a serious disadvantage because the protagonist, Peter Grant, constantly references past events and characters with little or no context. For example, if you didn’t read the very first novel (titled Midnight Riot in the U.S. and Rivers of London in the U.K.), you won’t understand Peter’s frequent references to Mr. Punch. And if you didn’t read Broken Homes, you won’t have a clue as to the significance of Lesley May’s return to the story and to Peter’s shock at seeing her face. This is definitely a series that must be read chronologically from the very beginning. And even then…I have read all of the novels, but I still had to go to the Follypedia Wiki to check a few details. After all, it’s been two years since the previous novel was published, which is a long time to keep all of the characters and their complicated relationships in your memory. One other problem: Some of the events to which Peter refers take place in the graphic novels, not in the previous five print books. Click HERE to go to Aaronovitch's "Chronology of RIVERS OF LONDON Books," which includes all of the novels, graphic novels, stories, and novellas.

Note: The Follypedia Wiki lacks a “Search” box and is prone to frequent wonky glitches, so it is frustrating to use. To bypass some of that frustration, you can click on the following characters’ names to go directly to each one’s page on Follypedia: Peter Grant, Thomas Nightingale, Leslie May, Beverley Brook, Sahra Guleed, Lady Tyburn, Mr. Punch, Dr. Abdul Haqq Walid, and Dr. Harold Postmartin.

WARNING! Do NOT look up Faceless Man on Follypedia because that entry has been updated to include information from The Hanging Tree, which means that you will find yourself in the middle of a major spoiler that will ruin your enjoyment of this novel.

      Although all of the novels have a police procedural framework, this book has a more rigid procedural structure than the previous novels. The story begins when Peter gets a middle-of-the-night phone call from Lady Tyburn, who commands Peter to make sure that her daughter, Olivia, does not get dragged into a murder investigation—a murder that has just occurred. A young woman’s body has been discovered in a vacant, luxury apartment, victim of an overdose of illegal street drugs. Peter’s description of the crime scene is the source of my favorite architectural quotation in the book: “One Hyde Park squatted next to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel like a stack of office furniture, and with all the elegance and charm of the inside of a photocopier.”

     As Peter and his partner, DC Sahra Guleed, investigate the crime, they soon become aware that magic is involved, which means that Peter must pull his boss, Nightingale, into the case. As always, the discomfiture of the magic-loathing police officers—particularly the higher-ups—is always good for a few chuckles when they are forced to deal with Peter and his woo-woo techniques.

     As the investigation proceeds, some familiar characters enter the story line, dragging baggage from previous encounters with Peter and Nightingale. Eventually, the Faceless Man turns up, forcing Peter to concentrate on unmasking and capturing him—with mixed results. The plot races along from one skirmish to another, with so many characters getting involved that I had to jot down a few notes on names and relationships to keep them straight. As if this were not enough, a covert team of American wizards (hostile and well armed) show up and insert themselves directly into the action. Up until now, Nightingale and Peter thought that they were the last active wizards in the world (except for an occasional rogue), but in this book, they learn that the American wizards are not the only ones who escaped their notice. Adding to the complexity of the plot, all of the wizards are trying to get their hands on a centuries-old book that has made its way to the center of the investigation, a book to which the tree in this novel's title has a tangential relationship.

     Outside of the main plot, we get a few brief glimpses into Peter’s private life: an evening spent watching his father perform at a jazz club; a few scenes with his live-in, river goddess girlfriend (Beverley Tyburn); and an emotional conversation he has with Lady Ty in which she warns him of the heartbreak that awaits him if he continues his affair with Beverley, the gist of which is that Beverley is immortal and Peter is not.

     Although I was happy to welcome Lesley back into the series, we didn’t really see very much of her, so that was disappointing. In fact I was a bit dissatisfied with the novel as a whole. Although Aaronovitch has created a compelling plot and a fantastic protagonist, the book lacks emotion. Although Peter is always ready with a wry, dry, sardonic quip, we never see into his soul. Peter’s interior monologues focus mostly on the city of London—sarcastic comments about its changing architecture and summarizations of relevant historical events. Unlike most urban fantasy protagonists, Peter never engages in any angst-filled ruminations about his inner conflicts. For example, Aaronovitch never writes any scenes in which Peter indulges in in-depth examinations of his feelings for Beverley, Lesley, his parents, or Nightingale. Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter’s clever, ironic voice, but after all, this is the sixth novel, so I’d like to get to know him on a deeper level.

     For fans of this plot-driven series, this is a must-read book, primarily because it takes the Lesley May and Faceless Man story lines in a new direction. To read an excerpt from The Hanging Tree, click HERE to go to the novel’s page and click on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Hanging Tree is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.  

     In this alternate London, the public knows little about magic, even though the city teems with ghosts and spirits. Within the law enforcement system, an Agreement has been reached that puts Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a powerful magician, in charge of keeping London's magical world under control. Nightingale is essentially, a one-man magical law enforcement unit that is officially called the Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9 (ESC9), but is nicknamed the Folly, after the name of the huge old mansion that Nightingale uses as his home and his headquarters. Nightingale lives alone in the Folly, with only the company of his not-quite-human maid, Molly, for company. Into this world steps Peter Grant, a young probationary constable in his mid-twenties. Very early in book 1, Peter moves into the Folly and becomes an apprentice magician under Nightingale's tutelage. 

     In this world, magic does not come through genetic heritage; it comes from hard practice. Here, Aaronovitch explains, "Magic, as it is practised by Nightingale and Grant, is not something you're born with. It is, as someone suggested, like playing a violin, anyone can be trained to do it and while some may have a natural aptitude it takes years of practise just to get a decent tune and...more than a lifetime to truly master." (Click HERE to read the entire on-line interview that is the source of this quotation.) (Note: Aaronovitch uses the British spelling for the word "practise.") The source of magical learning in this world is Sir Isaac Newton. Nightingale explains to Peter that although Newton did not invent magic, he did codify its basic principles in his book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Artes Magicis

     As the series progresses, Peter gradually learns more and more about using magic. As he explains, "You do magic by learning formae which are like shapes in your mind that have an effect on the physical universe. As you learn each one you associate it with a word, in Latin….You make it so that the word and the forma become one in your mind. The first one you learn is Lux which makes light….You make a spell…by stringing the formae together in a sequence." (Broken Homes, p. 94) As you can imagine, Peter spends a lot of time practicing the casting of formae

     Peter is a regular guy with a strain of sadness in his familial past. He is biracial in ethnicity. His father is white, a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict and a failed jazz musician, and his mother is an African immigrant (from Sierra Leone) who cleans offices. Here, Peter contrasts the two: "My dad would have told me to take the breaks as you get them and not worry about where they come from. But my mum never saw a gift horse that she wouldn't take down to the vet to have its mouth X-rayedif only so she could establish its resale value." (Foxglove Summer, p. 181) Peter gets along relatively well with his parents but hasn't lived at home since before he began his police career. He feels that he has disappointed them by not doing well in college, having been derailed by his inability to focus, a trait that has dogged him all his life. Peter takes to his magical instruction with relish and begins to modernize Nightingale's lessons with technology, dragging the Follywith Nightingale kicking and screaming all the wayinto the 21st century.

     Peter narrates the books in the first person voice with a dry tone that is darkly humorous and always ironic. Many of Peter's jibes are aimed at various aspects of London life that may not be entirely accessible to non-Londoners, but the stories are larded with enough flippant levity to bring smiles to readers who have never set foot on British soil.

     Each plot plays out like a magic-laced police procedural, with Peter and Nightingale uncovering clues, tracking down perpetrators, questioning witnesses, and bringing villains to various kinds of justice. As Peter explains, "'Where did the money come from?' is one of the three standard police questions, along with 'Where were you on the night in question?' and 'Why don't you just make it easy on yourself?'" (Whispers Under Ground, p. 165)

     For Peter, the search for clues begins with a search for vestigium, which, as Peter explains, "is the imprint magic leaves on physical objects. It's a lot like a sense impression, like the memory of a smell or sound you once heard....Some things, stones for example, sop up everything that happens around them even when it's barely magical at allthat's what gives an old house its character." (Moon Over Soho, p. 9) 

     An ongoing story arc involves the unhappy legacy of a wizard named Geoffrey Wheatcroft, who taught magic to a small group of apprentices back in the 1950s. One of those apprentices became a "master" magician who moved to London and went to the dark side. That man, in turn, trained apprentices of his own, and those dark sorcerers continue to turn up in London, always on the wrong side of the law. 

     Click HERE to go to the "Peter Grant Glossary" on Aaronovitch's blog, which (although brief) is also a helpful source of information about the British vernacular and a few locations that appear in the series. Click HERE to listen to an official RIVERS OF LONDON Rap by Doc Brown and Mikis Michaelides.

     This series has similarities to Simon R. Green's NIGHTSIDE and SECRET HISTORIES series, Kate Griffin's MATTHEW SWIFT series, and Anton Strout's SIMON CANDEROUS series (especially the protagonists' view of bureaucracies), as well as to the archetypal grand-daddy of all of these wizard-in-the-big-city seriesJim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES. Click HERE to read an on-line interview in which Aaronovitch discusses Butcher's books and their influence on his own writing. Click HERE to read Aaronovitch's explanation of the various units of London's Metropolitan Police.

                NOVEL 1:  Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London)               
     As the story opens, Peter has reached the end of his probationary period and is about to be assigned to a dull office post because, once again, his superiors believe that his lack of focus precludes a career of on-the-street police work. Before that can happen, though, Peter is assigned to guard the area in which a decapitated body has been found and comes face to face with a ghost who claims to have witnessed the murder. When Peter returns later to speak once again to the ghost, he catches the attention of a mysterious senior police officer who turns out to be Thomas Nightingale. Peter's dull desk job is quickly replaced by an apprenticeship as a wizarda much more exciting career as far as Peter is concerned.

     The first magical crime that Peter investigates with Nightingale is a series of strange murders in which seemingly normal people become suffused with rage and kill other people. One man throws his infant out of a window and murders his wife. (These crimes raise my violence rating on this book to a 4 or 5.) After Nightingale and Peter figure out what's going on, the story follows their spasmodically successful investigation all the way to the climactic scene that solves the case.
U.K. Cover and 
Title for Book 1
     A sub-plot has Peter as the intermediary between a pair of genii locorum (deities of local places): Mother Thames and Father Thamestwo deities in human form who are vying for control of the famous river. During his involvement with this case, Peter meets Mother Thames' beautiful daughter, Beverley Brook, and shares a moment or two of modest affection. The British title of this book is Rivers of London, and that's a major clue as to the real identity of many of the spirits who appear in this story.

     But Peter also has another possible love interest in Leslie May, a good friend and fellow constable who works on the more human side of the police force but cooperates with Peter on his magical missions. As a consequence of the deeds of the dastardly villain in this book, Leslie is forced into a situation that results in terrible danger and personal injury, and the resolution of that horrific occurrence is uncertain at the end of the book.

     This book pulled me in from the beginning, with its sardonic and ironic humor and likable protagonist. The story gets bogged down a few times in sections in which Peter pauses to give lengthy explanations of various aspects of London history, but as soon as he goes back to the story and the action, things get better immediately. The resolution of the main plot—catching the serial killeris somewhat dissatisfying because the killer's magical abilities aren't always clearly delineated. Just one small nitpick: a copy-proofing error on p. 93 inserted Beverley's name instead of Leslie's into a dialogue, which forced me to read the page twice before figuring out what happened.

                     NOVEL 2:  Moon Over Soho                    

     As the previous book ended, Peter was called to a crime scene in which the victim died as a result of vagina dentata, (I'm not about to explain this; just click on the phrase link to read the Wikipedia essay.) As this book begins, another victim shows up with the same cause of death. Since both Nightingale and Leslie are still recovering from the severe injuries they received at the end of book 1, Peter must solve this case mostly on his own. The primary connection among the deaths is that the victims are both jazz musicians. As Peter investigates each crime scene, he picks up vestigium in the form of jazz music. In order to identify the music, Peter goes to his jazz-musician father and they trace it to one particular recording from back in 1941 by a jazz group that died when a bomb hit the London club in which they were performing. As the investigation proceeds, Peter finds that one of the victims has a library full of the same old magic books that are on the shelves of the library at the Folly. Soon, Peter and Nightingale begin to believe that a black magicianpractitioner of dark and murderous magicis behind the murders.

     In the meantime, Peter has made a romantic connection with the girlfriend of one of the victims. Simone is a beautiful young woman who lives with her two sisters, loves jazz, and seems to be crazy about Peter. Peter is at romantic loose ends at the moment because Beverley is living far away in Father Thames' household, and Leslie is in the midst of rehabilitation and is facing further surgery for her horrendous facial injuries. 

     The plot plays out gradually as the dark magician (aka the faceless one) strikes again, and the various sub-plots begin to interweave. The scenes with Peter's father are nicely done, as the two begin to mend their often-thorny relationship. By the end of the book, Peter has learned that his father's addiction was not entirely his fault. 

     This book is a solid follow-up to the series opener, but it didn't pull me along as strongly as the first one did. The details of the faceless one's various evil deeds and creations seem incomplete, and sometimes events don't quite track. Aaronovitch includes a lot of London history (kind of like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro does in her SAINT-GERMAIN series), which, although interesting, sometimes brings the story to a complete standstill. Peter is such an intelligent and appealing protagonist that his character really is the greatest strength of the series. It would be nice to get a closer feel for Nightingale. At this point, he is still the somewhat aloof mentor, and we don't know much about his lifeexcept for the fact that he has been alone since all of his fellow magicians perished in various wars, particularly during World War II. We do get some more information about Molly, the Folly's maid (i.e., how she came to the Folly and exactly what kind of creature she is). Molly is a great character. Even though she never says a single word, I feel that I know her better than I know Nightingale.

                     NOVEL 3:  Whispers Under Ground                     

     When the body of the son of an American senator is discovered in a London subway tunnel, Peter, a police constable and sorcerer's apprentice, is called in to determine if magic was involved in the man's murder. The book follows Peter as he and his damaged colleague, Leslie, gather clues, question suspects, and eventually track down the killer. The third book in this series is long on police procedural elements and very light on magicThe back-cover blurb plays up the appearance of a female American FBI agent, but she actually plays a very minor role in the story.

     The identification and capture of the perpetrator is much less important to the plot than the search process itself. Here, Peter explains how the police solve a case: "This is police work: you go from point A to point B, where you learn something that forces you to schlep back to point A again to ask questions that you didn't know to ask the first time." Once again, quirky characters are at the heart of the story, from Peter's officious superior officers to the sleazy suspects and reluctant witnesses who turn up on the streets of London. The most highly developed and entertaining character in the latter group is Zachary Palmer, the slacker roommate of the murdered man who turns out to be something more than human. 

     London itselfboth past and presentcontinues to be as important a character as any of the humans. Peter, who has some architectural training, is able to read clues in bricks, tiles, and structural aspects of buildings as he relentlessly pursues each lead. When Peter finds vestigium (magical traces) on the magic-infused pottery shard that was the murder weapon, the author dips deeply into the history of the pottery trade in London.

     As the title foreshadows, most of the action scenes take place deep underground in London's subway and sewage tunnels. As the clues mount, Peter begins to wonder if he is on the verge of discovering yet another genius locione unknown even to his master, the wizard Nightingale. One of the disappointing aspects of the plot is the sketchy and incomplete information given on Peter's new discovery. SorryI can't be any more specific without giving away a spoiler.

     In the background, the faceless man (Peter's enemy in book 2) hovers menacingly, but he never shows up in person in this book. I will warn you, though, that if you haven't read the first two books, you will not understand or appreciate the frequent references to past events that played out in books 1 and 2. 

      This book moves at a much slower pace than the first two, and the climactic showdown scene is much less violent. In fact, I would rate the violence level in this book at no more than 2½. Even with the languid pace, though, Peter's sardonic humor and his lightly cynical commentary on London life provide a wealth of reading enjoyment. Peter continues to be a terrific character whose intelligent and ironic voice is the strongest element in the series. Here's an example, as Peter describes a small figurine that turns out to be an important clue: "It depicted the ever popular 'Venus-Aphrodite surprised by a sculptor and struggling to cover her tits with one hand and keeping her drape at waist height with the other' so beloved of art connoisseurs in the long weary days before the invention of Internet Porn."

     As in previous books, this one ends with a mild cliff-hangera clue to the plot of the next book. This continues to be a strong series, and I'm looking forward to book four.

                     NOVEL 4:  Broken Homes                     

     The third novel reads like a novel-length transitional episode, relying heavily on past events and characters and ending with a huge cliff-hanger to be resolved in the next novel. Unfortunately, that results in a story line with a slow-moving plot, a dearth of real action, and much scrambling around by the "Isaacs" (i.e., Police Constable Peter Grant's magical team, named after Sir Isaac Newton). I don't recommend this book to readers who haven't read the first three novels simply because they will fail to understand many of the references to characters, groups, and key events from the earlier books.

     Peter, an apprentice wizard, has the following allies as he works on the cases in this book:

    > Dr. Thomas Nightingale: a powerful wizard and leader of the team

    Dr. Abdul Walid: the world's only crypto-pathologist

    Police Constable Leslie May: also an apprentice wizard; still wearing a full face mask after her horrific facial injuries suffered in an earlier book (At one point, she complains that she looks like a plastic cop monster from Doctor Who [an auton]).

    Zach Palmer: half human and half (possibly) something else; has lots of underworld connections and plenty of street cred; hooks up with Leslie in this book, to Peter's chagrin

     In the novel's opening scene, a man crashes his car and is found to have been transporting a corpse carrying vestigiumtraces of magic. Next, another man blows up his granddaughter's birthday party by producing an uncontrolled ball of fire from his bare hands. Then, yet another murdered man turns upthis one burnt and/or boiled from the inside out. Then, a villainous Russian witch hurtles into the action. As the bodies pile up and the clues remain sparse, Peter and Leslie become convinced that their nemesis, the Faceless Man, is at the root of the murder spree. The Faceless Man is a rogue wizard who has been the target of a months-long search by the Isaacs. He has been wreaking magical havoc in London, and Nightingale and his team are determined to stop him. Unfortunately, they don't know what he looks like because he always wears a mask, thus his nickname. 

     One geographical location with which the reader needs to become familiar is "Elephant and Castle," the general location of many of the scenes in this novel. Elephant and Castle is a major road junction in Central London in the London Borough of Southwark. Click HERE to read two very different stories about the origin of its odd name. The cover art features this location as a red splash on its street map. Click HERE to see a more readable map of the area.

     As Peter follows the clues, he realizes that a council estate called Skygarden (located at Elephant and Castle) is somehow involved in the mysteries they are trying to solve, so he and Leslie go undercover and move into one of the apartments. As the clues mount up and connections are made, the suspense finally begins to build, leading up to the requisite showdown scene that ends the story with a shocking twist and with many loose ends still to be untangled and tied off. The location and some of the general characteristics of the apartments of Skygarden are modeled after Heygate Estate (pictured at left), the real council estate at Elephant and Castle. Heygate is an example of the Brutalist architectural style common in urban construction from the 1950s through the 1970s, and certain stylistic elements of Brutalism play a major role in the plot of this book.

     This novel isn't as strong as the previous books, mostly because of its slow pace, rambling plot, and lack of resolution for much of the conflict. Its strongest element, once again, is Peter's sardonic first-person voice, filled with dry humor and self-deprecation. Although Peter is relatively well read and educated, he constantly misuses the personal pronoun "me," always beginning sentences with "Me and [some other person…]" (e.g., "Me and Leslie…"), which is grammatically incorrect because "me" is always used as an objectnever as a subject. On top of that basic error, Peter places himself ("me") before the name of the other person—again, that's improper usage. I'm not trying to be the Grammar Police here. I'm just pointing out that this is one way that Aaronovitch keeps reminding us of Peter's young age and his non-posh upbringing. Peter is an intelligent young man and a talented up-and-coming wizard, but his personality and outlook on life are grounded in his nontraditional upbringing in various council estates by his mother (an immigrant office cleaner from Sierra Leone) and his father (a white, heroine-using jazz musician).

Strata SE1

     The design of Skygarden is integral to the plot, and is quite similar to the two buildings pictured at right and below. The Strata SE1, (aka the Razor) was built at Elephant and Castle in 2010. You may wonder why I'm emphasizing the architecture of these buildings, but if you are a reader of this series, you'll know that Peter Grant is an expert in the field of London architecture and that London's great buildings frequently turn up as important plot elements, as is the case in this novel. Even the Strata's nicknamethe Razorplays a role as a type of vestigium Peter picks up at a murder scene and at Skygarden.

Taut's design
     Two architects are heavily referenced in the novel: one real and one fictional. The real one is Bruno Taut (1880-1938), a German who was famous for his ideas about Stadtkroneurban architecture as city crowns. At left is one of his designs, which will look familiar to you after you have read Broken Homes

     If you enjoyed this book, you may be interested in reading a 2001 article from The Observer describing plans to turn Elephant and Castle into "Europe's biggest urban regeneration." The article's facts and opinions are so close to this novel's plot line that it could have served as the author's inspiration. Click HERE to read the article.

                     NOVEL 5:  Foxglove Summer                     
     After the mind-boggling conclusion of novel 4, I can hardly believe that in book 5, Aaronovitch turns completely away from the entire Faceless Man/Leslie May story arc and sends Peter off to the rural Herefordshire countryside near Leominster to solve a case that is unrelated to anything that is going on back in London. (With two exceptions: We learn more details about the mysterious 1940s Ettersberg events that Nightingale has mentioned in passing in nearly every book; also, Peter discovers exactly what kind of a supernatural creature Molly is). In interviews, Aaronovitch has said that he gave this book a rural setting because he wanted to place city-boy Peter somewhere far outside his comfort zonethe antithesis of London, butsurprise!Peter actually takes to country life quite nicely.
Herefordshire Folly

     Here is the premise: When two eleven-year-old girls vanish from their homes in the dead of night, the police ask Nightingale for help just in case magic was involved in their disappearance. With Leslie May still at large, Nightingale must remain at the Folly, so he sends Peter out on his own for the first time. In addition to checking for vestigia (traces of magic) at the crime scene(s), Peter is also assigned to check in with the Hugh Oswald, a local retired wizard, just to make sure that he hasn't had a hand in the crime. (NOTE: Hugh lives in an eccentrically designed house that Aaronovitch based on Raymond Erith's Herefordshire Folly, a real house that looks just like the author describes it.)

     The story begins as a basic police procedural, but to keep it from becoming too pedestrian, the magic soon begins to flowfirst a trickle and eventually a flood. Before long, Peter has an assistant, and as you might guess from my watery metaphor in the previous sentence, that helper is Beverley Brook, the lovely river goddess who has attracted Peter's romantic attention since the beginning of the series. Nightingale sends her along just in case Peter needs some magical back-up. Their relationship is delightful to watch, particularly when Beverley involves Peter in a sexy, but weird, ceremony to find a god for a forsaken local river.

     Aaronovitch sets a slow and steady pace as he follows Petersometimes accompanied by Beverley and/or by his local police partner, Dominicthrough his investigation: checking out various crime scenes, interviewing suspects, and digging into local history and folklore. Although the local coppers are uneasy with the possibility that magic even existsmuch less that it is involved in their casethey welcome Peter's assistance and never ask for many details. Their interaction with Peter adds to the humor of the story, and the juxtaposition of modern police work with ancient magic pumps enough oomph into the procedural elements to keep them from becoming too formulaic. For example, as Peter toils through his investigation, he has to deal with a child's invisible friend, a disemboweled sheep, a magical wildwood, and some supernatural creatures he has always believed were mythical. Playing an important role are the ancient trails and roadways of Herefordshire, some dating back to medieval times. Following are some of the key locations in the story. Click on any of these pink-links to read more: Mortimer TrailMortimer's CrossPokehouse Wood (aka House of Puck), Croft Castle, and Croft Ambrey.

     One of Aaronovitch's favorite writing habits is to bombard the reader with a huge array of police-related acronyms, not all of which are explained in context. Don't worry too much about figuring out what they mean, but if you are really curious, you can click HERE for a glossary of UK police acronyms and abbreviations. One acronym that isn't in the glossary is HOLMES, a computer-related acronym that is frequently used on several BBC-America detective shows. HOLMES is the UK police information system that is used on major cases, and the letters stand for Home Office Large Major Enquiry System. Peter accesses HOLMES as part of his investigation of suspects.

     Although this definitely isn't the book I was breathlessly awaiting, it is still a good reada nicely told story with plenty of magic and a bit of romance woven through the plot. Now, though, I'm ready to get back to Leslie May's story arc. Why on earth did she do what she did? What will she do next? What's happening with her face? Is she an enemy or an ally? Leslie does text Peter a few times in this book and calls him once, but only to leave another cryptic clue to a mysteriously ominous event that will take place in the near future. Although this book is a bit more light-weight than its predecessors, it's still a fun book to read. Peter's voice is, as usual, the strongest and most humorous element in the story. You could read Foxglove Summer as a stand-alone as long as you have some notion of the world-building of the series (See the World-Building section of this post for details.). Click HERE to go to a blog page that includes a video interview with the author and an excerpt from the book (just below the video).

One last thing: The significance of the book's title is rooted in Welsh legends and folklore. You can click HERE to read an on-line article entitled "The Foxglove of Fairytales, Myths, & Medicine." Amongst all of the folklore clues, one is significant for this storybut which one? 

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