Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

When I pick up a book to read, it’ll for be for two reasons:

  1. I think I’m going to enjoy it
  2. I think reading it will make me a better writer.

In most cases, it’ll be both, occasionally, it’s just one, and a book that fits neither I won’t bother finishing; life’s too short. I didn’t think Fifty Shades was a great book, but I also believe you can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes as well as your own, so I made it to page 12.

Anyway, I romped through Whispers Underground, the third book in Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series, in about three days.

The whole series is set around a clandestine department of the Metropolitan Police Force tasked with dealing crimes of a supernatural nature. In Aaronovitch’s mind, London is teaming with ghosts, elves, goblins and gods, most of which, for obvious reasons, try to keep a low profile. But like everyone else, they need policing. Unlike everyone else, they can do magic, so to keep a lid on things, you need the Folly, an off-the-books division that has police officers that can also do magic. It’s a bit like Harry Potter, but a lot more adult and a bit more sinister

For me (even though I’m not a Hogwarts person) this is a killer setup, but even if it’s not your usual cup of tea, you might want to read it anyway, because it’s a bit of masterclass in writing.

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Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the second book in the Rivers of London series which is a sort of Harry Potter meets Scott & Bailey.

Imagine, if you will, a secretive, well-funded branch of the Metropolitan Police, tasked with dealing with cases involving magic and the supernatural. Well, calling them a ‘branch’ might be overstating it; there’s just the two of them: Peter Grant, police constable and wizard-in-training; and his mentor, Thomas Nightingale, a detective inspector who seems to have been alive since the nineteenth century.

It’s by no means an original concept, but I don’t think I’ve come across an urban fantasy novel (or is it magic realism?) that’s so well-written. The sense of place you get is extraordinary; Aaronovitch has mapped London to destruction, giving himself a rich environment in which to explore this magical world of vampires, witches and river gods.

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