I've had my eye on Rivers of London since it was published earlier this year. Having spent three years at university on the outskirts, I've left part of my heart in London. It is a city made up of so many layers that it is quite conceivable that fantasy could be just another of these layers. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is the best example of this, and Rivers of London made me wonder if it could be another Neverwhere. It is half crime story and half wizardry, with some element that reminded me of American Gods and others that made me think of Terry Pratchett's city watch if they were relocated to London. I didn't find Rivers of London as indispensible as the aformentioned two, but like Tom Holt's comic fantasies, it was an enjoyable read-once story.
Rivers of London is full of the dry, understated sort of humour that seems (to me, a Brit) as particularly British:
"Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head."
"One officer stated with a suddenly sober Martin while his partner confirmed that there was a body and that, everything else being equal, it probably wasn't a case of accidental death."The book is peppered throughout with popular-culture references: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lovecraft and possibly Doctor Who, among others. The narrator, Peter Grant, is a clever but easily-distracted policeman who is trying to avoid being assigned permanent paperwork duties. Peter ends up apprentice to a wizard, investigating a string of strange and unsettlingly familiar crimes, living in a Folly with the wizard, a dog called Toby and a creepy housemaid who wouldn't be out of place in a Japanese horror film.
Early on in the story, I had a mad-crazy realisation that I knew what was going on! (The big revelation comes about halfway through.) There are some clues in the book and even on the cover - if you know what you're looking for, and especially if you ever visited Covent Garden or the English seaside as a child. What is a nasty crime to start off with, feels even darker when the source material is identified. It certainly puts a new spin onto one of the Great British Institutions.*spoilers below.
Although I enjoyed the humour and was impressed by the ideas of Rivers of London, I found the storytelling a bit confusing in places. The scene changes could be jumpy, not always clearly explained and I'd find myself having what I call "QI moments" after the panel show, where the loss of concentration for a split second could leave me utterly bewildered. There were a couple of significant plot advancements which made me wonder, how did we get here? How did he work this out? I had the feeling that Aaronovitch knew where he wanted to go with his story but not always how to get there. Still, it was an enjoyable read and I look forward to reading the sequel, Moon over Soho.
Rivers of London is published in the USA under the title Midnight Riot.
*The Punch and Judy Show. Out of the safe, slapstick context of the puppet theatre, this is horrible! Even in context. I saw part of a Punch and Judy show in the summer and wondered how they were still allowed!