ElCicco#CBR4 Review #33: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
This book is the third (after Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho) in Aaronovitch’s delightful series featuring London Constable Peter Grant, the son of West African parents and a newly minted police officer of seemingly average ability. In the first book of the series, Peter discovers that he can communicate with ghosts and sense other unusual phenomena. He is soon linked up with a secret section of the British police force led by Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a master wizard. Nightingale is a man of murky past and indeterminate age, although he looks younger than his years, and he takes on Peter as a protege at his HQ, the Folly.
Each of the books deals with a specific murder but there is a running story of “the faceless man” — an anonymous character who possesses terrible power — and the slowly unfolding backstory of Nightingale and the tragedy that befell the magical community in WW2 at Ettersberg. Whispers is about the murder of an American art student who also happens to be the son of a senator. He was done in with a piece of magical pottery (Peter can feel the magic on the shards) in a subway tunnel, and the magic team must work with the regular force and the FBI to find the murderer.
Aaronovitch has a terrific sense of humor and creates a fabulous array of characters who become part of Peter’s magical and mundane worlds, such as Father Thames and the various river goddesses; Molly, the housekeeper at the Folly who has some strange appetites and obsessions; Lesley May, Peter’s smarter partner who has a life altering experience in book 1; and Peter’s superiors on the police force, Stephanopoulos and Seawoll, who find working with the wizards trying due to all of the embarrassing and difficult-to-explain events that occur as a result of their actions (mostly Peter’s, since he tends to get involved in unusual situations and is still very much a novice when it comes to exercising his magical skills).
The dialog is snarky and funny, and the pop culture references come fast and furious, particularly those related to British fantasy literature. One of my favorite excerpts is a scene involving Lesley and Peter after a night of heavy drinking on Lesley’s part. She accuses Peter of being boring and says:
“‘You’d think a copper who was a wizard would be more interesting. Harry Potter wasn’t this boring. I bet Gandalf could drink you under the table.’
“Probably true, but I don’t remember the bit where Hermione gets so wicked drunk that Harry has to pull the broomstick over on Buckingham Palace Road just so she can be sick in the gutter.” Afterward, Lesley picks up where she left off, “pointing out that Merlin probably had something to teach me about the raising of the wrist.”
I would read all of the books as opposed to picking just one. They are fun, easy, enjoyable reads. My only gripe is that I’ll probably have to wait a year for the next one and I’ll forget details from previous stories by then.