By Daniel Savage
“My name is Peter Grant, and I’m a Detective Constable in that mighty army for justice known as the Metropolitan Police (a.k.a the Filth). I’m also the first trainee wizard in the Met for fifty years.”
The second in Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Folly’ series, Moon Over Soho relates the continuing adventures of PC Peter Grant; decent copper and the first apprentice wizard in sixty years.
In the first, Rivers of London, Peter was introduced to magic, the various gods of the River Thames, vampires and Punch and Judy.
It was all rather entertaining, blending the police procedural smoothly with urban fantasy, with a hefty dose of trivia about London and a consistently dry sense of humour throughout.
In some respects, there is a distinct formula to the book; just as with Rivers of London, and indeed pretty much any police drama, Grant is presented with two separate cases which inevitably link up in the end.
On the one hand, a supernatural assassin is killing people in ways that generally aren’t seen beyond the more esoteric areas of the internet, and the deaths may be linked to a larger plan involving the supernatural criminal sector. On the other, something is killing musicians.
As the son of a musician himself, Grant is naturally perturbed by this.
Interspersed with this are frequent sections of magical training and theory – or at least, attempts at creating one, with many of his predecessors having taken the view that magic works by magic.
Also, perhaps refreshingly, perhaps tediously, there is frequent acknowledgement of how exacting and drawn out real police work can be, with much time devoted to the intricacies of Metropolitan administration.
Thankfully, these scenes are leavened with the humorous frustrations of those who have to deal with it.
Happily though, Aaronovitch has managed to distil all the framework elements of Rivers of London, and mix them in with character and background development to produce a sequel which isn’t quite just more of the same.
It’s early days, to be sure, but it’s worth comparison with longer running series (particularly on the police procedural/detective side of the books; if you’ve ever read anything, for instance, by Robert B. Parker you’ll know that it is a genre rife with repetition).
There is the confidence here of a seasoned writer who knows exactly where he wants his series to go, and the book rattles along breezily enough if never quite reaching the level of astonishing literature.
Throw in some intense and inventive magical action; a genuinely tragic ending and some knowing swipes at modern fantasy – Grant, being of African descent, is unimpressed to find that villainous wizards are known as Black Magicians for instance – and you have a fine instalment of a promising series.
There are flaws, of course.
The main plot strand tails off, clearly leaving room for at least one sequel – no bad thing, but done incredibly shamelessly here; while any reasonably savvy reader will be screaming at Grant for a good half of the book over his attitude towards one clearly dodgy character.
It is eventually justified, but the reveal might have been more effective if there had been just a touch more ambiguity.
Overall though, Moon Over Soho is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I eagerly await the sequel.