Rivers of London

By : Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Gollancz
Available in: Hardback, softback, e-reader

Peter Grant is just coming to the end of his two year probation as a constable with the Metropolitan police. Probies always get the shit jobs. So it’s no real surprise that he finds himself, on a cold rainy night in January, guarding the scene of a murder outside St Paul’s in Covent Garden. While his friend, WPC Leslie May, is off getting coffee, he is approached by an eye witness to the crime. This witness gives a graphic and accurate account of what transpired. The only problem is that this witness is the ghost of a man that died over a century ago. This isn’t going to be easy to explain to the brass.

Thus begins Peter’s journey into a London that he was completely oblivious to before now.

Ben Aaronovitch, the author, has written for TV and radio in his time, as well as a bunch of novels. Most notably he has worked on Dr Who (TV, radio and books) and Blakes’ 7 (radio plays). Rivers of London is his first foray into a world that is his creation, and he has created it well.

The book is written from the view of Peter, and a great deal of thought has obviously been put into the character and the style of the writing. It has an earthy quality and an honesty that made me completely believe that this was the narrative of a young policeman from a mixed race family, London born and bred. There is no pretention to draw you out of the world that he completely succeeds in creating. A ‘modernism’ (is that a word?) that brings it into the world of today. This is something that other authors often aim for, but sometimes fail to achieve with such conviction. However, this does mean that some of the imagery is not quite as poetic as it could be. But I see this as a good thing. Don’t get me wrong. I love colourful renditions of the images writers are portraying. But Peter is not a poet. This is a world seen through his eyes. It really worked for me.

It is a tale told through the eyes of a policeman. So, as such, it is a police investigation tale that strays into a world that is way outside of the realms of police reports. As a result, it is not a splatter book, nor is it a sinister, suspense tale. Yet it is both. Aaronovitch tells a tale which, seen through different eyes, could have easily been told by Clive Barker or James Herbert. But neither of them would have chosen Peter as their central character. So there are moments that are told more clinically than would be by other authors. But are no less shocking or disturbing, if one applies some thought and imagination to what you are being told.

I am truly impressed with the amount of research and accuracy that Aaronovitch has achieved with this book. His portrayal of the Metropolitan Police structure and operation is superb. I used to work for the Met Police Forensic Science labs. So many parts of this book made me think ‘Fuck yeah… that is so right!’ (Actual Policemen may disagree.)

Some may question whether this is truly a ‘horror’ book. And I would admit, it’s no Banks, Lumley or Hutson. But it is a foray into the worlds that we embrace, and it is a refreshing point of view to observe this foray from. It may not be filled with scares, gore or balls out nastiness. But it, in my opinion, completely achieves what it aims at. And as a result of this book, Mr Aaronovitch has made it onto my list of ‘Authors to keep an eye on for new works’. This list is not large.

Rivers of London is the first in a series. It is followed by Moon over Soho and Whispers Under Ground (to date).

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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