Warning: contains spoilers for books 1 and 2
For those of you who have read my review of Moon Over Soho will already know that I think Ben Aaronovitch is a pretty funny writer and once he gets me laughing I barely stop. In the case of Whispers Underground I had to wait until sentence three on page one this time before the snickering, guffawing, and snorting got started. I didn’t hold that against him though because who wouldn’t think this was a funny start to a book?
My mum translated this in her head to ‘witchfinder which was good because my mum like most West Africans considered witchfinding a more respectable profession than policeman.
This instalment of the Peter Grant story starts a few months following the previous novel and just before Christmas during one of the rare snowy London winters. The Folly has a new inhabitant in the form of Peter’s colleague and friend, Lesley. While still horrifically disfigured with her unfortunate brush with magic in book one we discover at the very end of book two that she has been gifted with magic. She has joined Peter to learn the magic tricks of the trade from the enigmatic Nightingale. I liked that Lesley was back in a relatively more permanent basis as she is a good balance to Peter’s character and in her own way keeps him a bit grounded. It is also quite realistic that Peter is still grossed out and feels guilty for Lesley’s deformities but at the same time is reliant on her to keep him on track both with work and magic. The murder in this mystery is in the form of a American exchange student who crawls from the tube tracks onto a platform at Baker Street station where he collapses and dies from his injuries. The murder weapon, a piece of pottery, leads Peter and Lesley on an investigation all over London both above ground and under it.
During this novel we are introduced to a few new secondary characters including a female FBI agent, Agent Reynolds who has been brought over to London to assist with the investigation given the prominence of the victim’s father back home in the US. Reynolds is a true non-believer and Peter struggles throughout the story of keeping his ‘special division’ and magical powers hidden from her. Another new character was Zach who was friends with the murder victim. We soon soon that Zach is more than he seems and begrudgingly owns up to his heritage after being called out by Nightingale.
‘My Dad was a fairy’ said Zach. ‘And by that I don’t mean he dressed well and enjoyed musical theatre.’
The Zach/Nightingale dynamic was interesting and gave us a bit more of an insight into both characters as well.The mysterious Molly is also prominent in the Folly, cooking up some not so wonderful treats for her housemates and some of the Peter and Lesley’s colleagues in the police make a reappearance. Perhaps the one cop that gets the most ‘face time’ is Detective Chief Inspector Seawoll who was Lesley’s boss and views Peter and his profession as a bit of a blot on the police force. Despite this Peter has a rather grudging respect for Seawoll describing him in this most amusing paragraph
Watching Seawoll in motion was always an education in of itself. Despite the 1970’s shouty guv’nor pickaxe handle, drink you under the table fuck me, fuck you, old fashioned copper facade he was, bureaucratically speaking, very light on his feet.
Quite a bit happens in this story and to tell you too much would ‘give the game away’. All while this investigation goes on Nightingale continues to search for the Faceless Man, the extremely powerful but evil magician. This research leads Peter and Lesley into some near ‘death by magic’ situations but yet we are no closer to finding this nefarious magician by the end of the book. I think this really works as an over arching plot throughout the series as it doesn’t dominate the story yet there is enough there to keep the plotline active in your mind. Not an easy task to do as in some stories the sub-plot is either to prominent throughout a series and you get bored of it or too much in the background and you forget what is going on through the series. Again, kudos to Aaronovitch for managing to keep my interest in the Faceless Man alive.
I really enjoyed Whispers Underground and could quote loads more of my favourite lines (there are quite a few!) but that would make this review one big spoiler which I prefer not to do. I know I have said it before but the Peter Grant series is a delight to read. Its the perfect blend of funny, mystery and great characters. Buy it!
Aaronovitch does it again and has me ‘tittering and tee heeing’ all the way through Whispers Underground and all combined with a nice tense murder mystery. Aaronovitch certainly has the gift for writing consistently excellent plots with characters you love and observations about life in London that are spot on. The Peter Grant series really is a series that are ‘fantasy-lite’ and would appeal to anyone who likes a good solid ‘who dunnit’. For me the appeal for these books keeps growing and I love learning more about the background of each of the main characters which is fairly rare as usually all is exposed in the first book of a series. Kudos galore once again to Aaronovitch and hurry please with book four Broken Homes!
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Rivers of London
- Moon over Soho
- Whispers Underground
- Broken Homes (2013)
BUY YOUR COPY