Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
This is the second novel in Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London‘ series of humorous police procedurals involving magical crimes in contemporary London. If you’ve not read the first volume Rivers of London – head over here to find out about it – for you won’t understand much of what’s going on in the second book otherwise.
Detective Constable Peter Grant is continuing his tutelage as the Metropolitan Police’s only trainee wizard under DCI Nightingale at ‘The Folly’ – the Met’s secret magical crimes unit in Bloomsbury.
He’s called out to look at the body of a saxophonist who dropped dead after a gig in a Soho jazz club – there’s a definite aura of magic, ‘vestigium‘ in the air, typified by riffs from jazz standard Body and soul. Grant will find that a suspicious number of jazz musicians have died in past years.
Grant recognises the recording of Body and Soul, but can’t place it and heads off to his parents flat. His father used to be a great trumpet player, but had to stop. No longer able to play his horn, even though he’s retired, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant has turned to keyboards and is contemplating making another comeback.
Then there is a particularly gruesome murder in one of the Soho Clubs, again reeking of magic. They have a suspect but she’s going to be hard to catch. Grant enlists the help of Ash – one of the tributary river-Gods to follow her – but she twigs and Ash nearly ends up like her other victims, but Grant is able to get him back to the river in time by hijacking an ambulance – something that will get him in big trouble. The murderer gets away though and soon news of another brutal killing comes through …
My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner. He said there were others, some of whom were born within the sound of Bow Bells, who spend their whole life dreaming of an escape. When they do go, they almost always head for Norfolk, where the skies are big, the land is flat and the demographics are full of creamy white goodness. It is, says my dad, the poor man’s alternative to Australia, now that South Africa has gone all multicultural.
Jerry Johnson was one of the latter type of non-Londoner, born in Finchley in 1940 by the grace of God and died in a bungalow on the outskirts of Norwich with his penis bitten off. That last detail explaining why me and the scariest police officer in the Met, her beard and two motorcycle outriders were doing a steady ton plus change up the M11.
Highlight the text above for the full goriness of Johnson’s murder if you dare.
All these elements will tie up in the end, and DCI Nightingale and Grant, aided by pathologist Dr Walid and DC Stephanopoulis will have their work cut out to solve the mystery. Eventually they get a concrete lead – from a seedy agent cum pimp who is scared of the magic he thinks he saw.
‘At least, I think I saw it,’ said Mith, and he seemed to shrink down into the collar of his shirt. ‘You’re not going to believe me.’
‘I’m not going to believe you,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘But Constable Grant here is actually paid to believe in this stuff. He also has to believe in faeries and wizards and hobgoblins.’
‘And hobbitses,’ I said.
I love all the throwaway one-liners.
Although lacking the impact of discovering the author’s magical world for the first time, Moon over Soho shows an author who loves London, and is keen to show us how messy life in the great metropolis can be. The main plot is quite transparent, but we have great fun in getting to the denouement. The recurring characters are all built upon from volume one, and I’m desperate to see how PC Lesley May does in the third novel, having been relegated to supporting in vol two due to having nearly died in the first. It was lovely to meet Peter’s father, jazz fan and vinyl afficionado, (l.p.s – doncha miss them?).
Some might quibble about the series-aspects of this novel – it doesn’t stand alone, but not me. These books would make a wonderful TV series – it would be wonderful to see what the Sherlock team could make of them for instance, (Sherlock is back on New Year’s Day – yay!).
So read the first book first, then if you like it (I hope you do), you’ll enjoy the second too. I can’t wait to get stuck into the next two now. (8.5/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Moon Over Soho (Rivers of London 2) by Ben Aaronovitch (2011), Gollancz paperback, 375 pages.