Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Whispers Under Ground: Ben Aaronovitch

Introduction at Goodreads:
It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

It has been a pleasure to read each of the first three books from the Rivers of London series. I agree with this reviewer:
This is really a 4.8 star book. Not quite perfection, but much better than "really liked it." Firstly, I must say that Aaronovitch checked off my "do not rehash for those too lazy to read the earlier books" box. I loathe spending important book time with awkward monologues re-telling the plots of earlier books.
I too gave this four stars on Goodreads, and I did not want to bump it up to five stars. But it is very far above most other four star books. I use the rating system on Goodreads for my own use, to remember how I felt about it, but I feel like enjoyment of a book is very subjective and often depends on frame of mind or the weather. I sometimes re-evaluate my rating (usually in the week or so after reading the book).


So, why did I like it so much?

This book is definitely on the light and humorous side, although not laugh out loud funny. Although it may be for readers in the UK, who may get a lot more of the humor than I do. Yet, humorous though it is, it is not lacking in disgusting corpses or action-packed investigations. And the two elements balance each other out.

Lesley, another Police Constable, is back again. She featured a lot in the first book, but had a lower profile in the second book. I am glad to have her back. She is a strong female character, which is important, because Peter can be a little "sexist" or, at the least, clueless about the opposite sex.

I noted in the review of the second book in the series that there was more sex in that book than I was comfortable with. It just wasn't necessary. This one has very little of that... and both books were equally entertaining. I think this one is less violent too, though as I have said, lots of action. Feels like a thriller with fantasy elements. And we even have visitors from the USA taking part in the investigation.

But, the absolutely best thing about these books is how they are told, through Peter, our apprentice wizard. I start reading Peter's first person account, and I am completely entertained and entranced until I am done with the book.

The books are police procedurals, with autopsies and crime scene analysis, and the usual following up on leads. Here is Peter's description:
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. If you’re really unlucky you do both directions in the worst snow since written records began and with Zachary Palmer offering you driving advice while you do it.
Later, they have moved on to another area of London. The descriptions of London landmarks is another plus in this series. The author and Peter both clearly love the city:
Onward to Point C - in this case Southwark, the traditional home of bearbaiting, whorehouses, Elizabethan theatre and now the Tate Modern. Built as an oil fired power station by the same geezer who designed the famous red telephone box, it was one of the last monumental redbrick buildings before the modernists switched their worship to the concrete altar of brutalism. The power station closed in the 1980s and it was left empty in the hope that it would fall down on its own. When it became clear that the bastard thing was built to last, they decided to use it to house the Tate’s modern art collection.
There is a quote on the Rivers of London book cover by Diana Gabaldon: "what if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz?" I don't see the similarity between the books myself (I have read the first six Harry Potter books), and I find that description misleading. It would make me avoid the series. Of course, the quote is about Harry Potter grown up, but I really think Harry Potter as an adult would be much different from Peter. Oh well, my point is really that this quote should not keep anyone from trying these books.

I have also seen comparisons between the Rivers of London series and the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Based on reviews, I had rejected that series. Not that the reviews were bad, but that the elements of the stories did not appeal. I think I should reassess that decision, and give the first book in the series a try.

In parting, I would say that these books are best read in order. As noted above, the author does not waste the reader's time on rehashing the back story. But, several reviewers said that the first book they read was this one, and they liked the book just fine. So, you can probably go either way. As many reviews say, once you read this book there are spoilers for the first two. But you could probably enjoy reading any of them as stand-alone books.


This is my third submission for Once Upon a Time VIII. My reviews for the first two books are  here. and here.




22 comments:

  1. Thanks for this review, Tracy. I've only read the first and intend to carry on with the series, but the feeling that... something just isn't quite there made it fall short of a 5 star read for me too. Of course, reading London Falling by Paul Cornell directly after it may have had something to do with it - it has a vaguely similar set-up - London police with a mystic thingy - but is, IMHO, an easy 5 stars.

    As for Jim Butcher, I've read an early one of those and it was perfectly fine - a bit more straightforward than Aaronovitch, but perfectly entertaining. After seeing a couple of blurbs from the later books in the series, though, I'm not sure how far they stray from the mystery part of the plot.

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    1. Puzzle Doctor, Glad to hear that you like one of the Jim Butcher books. I will probably have to wait until 2015 to read London Falling and the first Jim Butcher book. But I am looking forward to both. I am glad there are so many fantasy / mystery crossovers to spice up my reading with.

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  2. I really enjoyed the first one of these and can't wait to get in to the rest - thansk TracyK!

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    1. Sergio, so glad you liked the first one. If you liked that one, you will like the next two for sure.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it so much, but the "wizard" thing just puts me off and I can't get past that.

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    1. Col, I sympathize. I had the same prejudice for a long time, and to be honest, I was first attracted to the beautiful UK cover for the first book. Just gorgeous.

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  4. Tracy - Thanks for the review, as ever. I have to say I find the paranormal thing really hard to get past, too. I'm probably far too closed-minded about that, and may be missing out on some good stuff. But still....

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    1. Oh well, Margot, there are plenty of good books out there, you have to draw the line somewhere.

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  5. I keep thinking I might try the first of this series - one of these days...

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    1. Well, if it entices you at all, there are a lot of clothing descriptions in this one. Probably in all of them, but I can't remember.

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  6. Putting this on my 'take a chance' list. I'm not a Harry Potter fan and wizards would normally not be something I'd would read about. Yet your recommendation is so fervent....taking a chance!

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    1. Nancy, If you take a chance on this book, I do hope you find some value in it. I do love the narration, and the wizard stuff is not overdone, just kind of matter of fact. But fantasy elements aren't for everyone.

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  7. I liked the first book but haven't read any more in the series. I'm not sure how likely I am to do so but I'm glad you're enjoying it!

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    1. Sarah, for me the first one was the best, probably largely because it was a new and unexpected experience. Some reviewers liked this third book best. With so many great books out there, we all have to make choices about what to read, what not to read.

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  8. So glad you enjoyed this! I just think this series gets better and better. I have Broken Homes lined up on my e-reader but am trying to hold off reading it just now until the next one in the series is out!

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    1. Marie, that is funny. My husband does that with favorite authors. He holds the last book back until a new one comes out, so he will always have one waiting.

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  9. Tracy, I still have to read something by Ben Aaronovitch. I have no issues with "fantasy elements" or "wizard(s)" and, I think, I'd actually like this particular book in the series.

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    1. That's great, Prashant. I think you would like any of the first three books in the series.

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  10. Sounds good Tracy. But my library doesn't have them. Darn. Don't think I will buy them but if I come across it thru the interloan system at the library I will read them!

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    1. I hope you get to try them sometime Peggy. The first book came out with a different title here (Midnight Riot), but I am sure they would show up by author's name if the library had them. Maybe inter-library loan would work. Or maybe they will show up at a sale one day.

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  11. I would say that if you're looking for a pleasant way to pass the time, the Dresden books are good. I read a couple and enjoyed them, but have not felt compelled to read them all. I felt the same way about the short lived television series, though I thought it was good enough for a second series.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, James. I am definitely going to try the first Dresden book. I got it on Kindle, not my preferred way to read but...

      I had no idea that there was a TV series. After I sample the books, maybe I will try that.

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