Friday, September 2, 2011

Midnight Riot

Sometimes a mash up of books ends up a mess or even worse  ends up coming across as a version of Mad Libs for aspiring writers. Not so with Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. It is a happy, even original marriage of Men In Black and Harry Potter with a dash of Midsomer Murders. A Harry Potter-ish police procedural? Buckle up it's a lot of fun.

Peter Grant is a young constable working for the Metropolitan Police Department in London and that's about it for the good news. He has an unrequited crush on WPC Lesley and he's going to be posted to the armpit of all the branches. A seemingly routine murder brings Grant and Lesley nothing but trouble when an eighteenth century ghost named Nicholas Wallpenny steps forward as a witness. Grant's conversation with Wallpenny identifies him as a candidate for the special investigation team headed by Inspector Thomas Nightingale. This unit is the one Law and Order series that hasn't happened yet, the one for crimes of a magical nature.

Grant is an interesting copper to spend time with. He's young and doesn't come with the standard lone wolf, anti-social, anti-authority attributes that over populate detective fiction. He's biracial with a west African Mother and a heroine addicted, white Father. With that background it's easy to understand Grants' sense of not belonging anywhere. This is heightened by the two new, small worlds he has just entered as a police officer and someone with special gifts.

Aaronovitch lays out the investigation in Midnight Riot with all the believability of a P.D. James mystery. He also peppers the plot and descriptions with real locations and pop culture references all of which ground the fantastic elements of the story. The magic that he uses to turn the book into a fantasy-mystery can be fresh and vigorous, sometimes humorous and just as often dark and grim.

It turns out that Midnight Riot is the start of series that has already been followed by: Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground. If these two novels are as fun as Midnight Riot turned out to be I’ll be well pleased.

P.S. In the U.K. Midnight Riot is titled Rivers of London. Better title and a much, much better cover. The U.S. cover makes this novel look like a new Die Hard movie---which isn't a bad thing but is not an appropriate thing.

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