Recently, thanks to multiple books lent to me by friends, I have been on a crime-reading spree. And while I have learnt that perhaps crime is not for me, unless it is really, truly worthy (Gone Girl is still a particular favourite), I have also discovered that, at least in the crime fiction world, 95% of all heinous crimes occur in London. Terrible, dreary weather can have that effect on people.
Told from the perspective of Constable Peter Grant, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, is part crime fiction, part fantasy. When a terrible murder occurs (think callous beheading), Peter thinks it’s just another case – until he realises that the first witness he speaks to is actually a ghost. Soon, Peter is taken under the wing of Inspector Thomas Nightingale, where he learns that not only is magic real, but he has the ability to learn how to use it.
Of course to make things all that more difficult, Peter and Nightingale have to first solve a tricky magical murder. When the terrible beheading is only the first of a series of disgusting, facial disfiguring murders, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to magic than simply saying ‘Hocus Pocus’ – particularly when vengeful ghosts are involved.
Fans of Jasper Fforde’s novels would probably love Rivers of London because it is the original combination of magic, surrealism, crime and dry wit. Yet in the same way that I didn’t particularly love The Eyre Affair so too was Rivers of London unfortunately not my cup of tea.
While I will readily admit that fantasy isn’t my forte, the biggest issue I had with this novel was its convoluted plot. It seemed as though I had to go round and round in circles for the crime to make much sense (or have a motive) and then the big conclusion was sadly a letdown. For a story that was already a bit tough for me to get my head around – police, murder, vengeful ghosts, different types of magic, different types of ghosts, fictional characters that might also be controlling the vengeful ghosts who are controlling others, etc. etc. – Aaronovitch then chose to pile on a secondary storyline that didn’t really make much sense in the context of things. Granted, Rivers of London is the first in a series and that plot may make sense further down the track, but for the time being it just added another layer of confusion onto my already very confused self.
The second issue that I had with Rivers of London was that it really came across that Ben Aaronovitch was trying just a smidgen too hard to be witty. Usually I love dry humour, and I’m the first to laugh at a bit of wit, but I do think there is such a thing as being too clever. Aaronovitch’s constant references to the Daily Mail (which I think we can all agree is outstandingly crap journalism) became too frequent to be witty and just came across smug, and it managed to change the whole tone of the novel. More importantly though, Aaronovitch spent more time trying to be humorous than actually developing his characters and the result was that his protagonist, Peter Grant, came across as two-dimensional, relatively unremarkable and not particularly interesting. And while Aaronovitch does add a back story for Grant, it seems almost as an afterthought, and didn’t provide me with any real intrigue.
If you’re a fan of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair then I would recommend Rivers of London to you. Otherwise, I don’t know if this is the book for you. I commend Ben Aaronovitch for creating something so original, but unfortunately the execution let it down.
Have you read Rivers of London or anything by Ben Aaronovitch? Are you a fan of his series? Let me know!