Book Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Posted August 19, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Published by Gollancz Books on July 25, 2013
Pages: 357
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Midnight Riot, Whispers Under Ground, The Hanging Tree, "The Furthest Station", Lies Sleeping, False Value, "What Abigail Did That Summer"

Fourth in the PC Peter Grant urban fantasy series, a.k.a., Rivers of London, and revolving around Nightingale’s first apprentice since Ettersberg.

My Take

It does crack me up that Peter is constantly setting up scientific experiments to measure magic, to learn where it comes from, to discover why it affects electronics. I also enjoyed Peter’s description of the mandated Officer Safety Training, ahem. Then there’s the magical training with Nightingale introducing Peter and Lesley to the process of making their own staffs.

An underlying issue within the series were the aftereffects of the battle at Ettersberg at the end of World War II when the magic community lost most of its practitioners and came to the conclusion that magic was going out of the world. The magic users hunkered down to live out their lives, but it seems they were wrong.

Poor Nightingale. He cannot get away from Harry Potterisms. Seems he’s quite annoyed about Pocket Quidditch, *giggle*. Peter’s is an interesting character with a number of conflicts. He tends to wander off onto tangents when he’s being lectured to or interviewing suspects. He’s somewhat afraid of going after the bad guys, which, when I think about it, does make sense *eek*. He creates havoc wherever he goes (which makes Zach’s comment about the advice he’s getting make sense), and yet he still manages to accomplish things. He reminds me of an inquiring older boy who doesn’t stop to think.

I do adore Aaronovitch’s sense of fun:

“…the Coin Street Community Builders whose unofficial motto is ‘Building houses that people might actually want to live in’. It was revolutionary stuff.”

And there’s a description of the Skygarden estate:

“…a very conventional design that one architectural critic complained, ‘obscured the exuberance of Stromberg’s central conceit’. These were built in a conventionally slipshod manner which certainly obscured the exuberance of most of the people that lived there, who also comprised the bulk of the population of the estate.”

Ooh, the joint Court of the Thames was an experience. Part fairy party and part festival with booths and toffee apples. The pissing contest was an interesting, um, touch. The river gods and goddesses do make an appearance, but they don’t have much input in Broken Homes other than introducing us to Sky and Nicky.

“Metropolitan Police: Working Together for a Stranger London.”

Then there’s the guilt trip Mum lays on Peter about his dad’s lip. Oh, boy. I am curious as to why Aaronovitch always tells us the name of Peter’s Dad, but his mother never has one.

It’s an interesting observation about the difference between the vestigium of old and new hospitals and the reasoning for it. As well as Nightingale’s comment about massacre sites. I’ll bet you do dream after encountering one or more of these!

Sounds like blockbusting going on in here, what with “the Council paying County Gard more to secure the empty flats than it would cost to refurbish them for new tenants”.

Yep, I can totally sympathize with Lesley’s viewpoint:

“…people with heart conditions, epilepsy, and an aversion to electrocution should not embark upon breaches of the peace in the first place.”

Oh, wow, I do love the sound of those balcony gardens. How perfect would that be?!

YES!! Peter actually tells his colleagues where he’s going. Yes, deny the tropism!!

The Story

It’s one of those towering slums, the Skygarden estate, with something hinky going on. It’ll take Peter and Lesley moving into an apartment, undercover, to make it all come crashing down. Well, okay, it’s not really undercover, but more of an, um, “extremely subtle form of community policing…”

The Characters

Police Constable Peter Grant is with the Specialist Crime Directorate 9, a.k.a., Specialist Assessment Unit (SAU), that deals with “other stuff”. He’s also an apprentice in magic to Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale, his boss, governor, and master, along with PC Lesley May whose face is still undergoing work. They all live at the Folly on Russell Square with Toby, the dog they inherited from a victim in Midnight Riot, 1, and Molly, the housekeeper and cook who refuses to leave the house. She’s also been experimenting with her cooking. It’s all the fault of that Jamie Oliver cookbook.

Associated with the Folly
Professor Harold Postmartin, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and B.Mon, is the Folly’s chief (and only) archivist. The German version of the Folly is the Komplexe und Diffuse Angelegenheiten (Abteilung KDA, a.k.a., Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters) and part of the Federal Police Force, the Bundeskriminalamt. TSG are the Territorial Support Group. Frank Caffrey is an inspector with the London Fire Brigade.

Peter’s family
Richard “Lord” Grant is Peter’s dad and a jazz musician who has returned to performing with Lord Grant’s Irregulars. Peter’s mum is Fula from Sierra Leone and very keen on family. Abigail Kamara is a sort of beginning apprentice who is learning about magic at the Folly. Peter’s cousin Obe is an electrician. Oooh, Catherine was Peter’s first love. At twelve.

Lord Grant’s Irregulars include James Lochrane as the drummer; Max Harwood is the bassist, and Daniel Hossack plays guitar. Jon is Daniel’s boyfriend.

London Metropolitan Police
The Scottish Dr. Abdul Haqq Walid is a world-renowned gastroenterologist and the only practicing cryptopathologist they know of. Senior Investigating Officer Douglas Manderly will investigate the accident. Douglas Douglas is the safety training lecturer. DCI Maureen Duffy is in charge of Operation Tinker. “DAFT is Southwark’s Drugs and Firearm Team — and winner of the mostly badly thought-out acronym award three years running.” PC Maureen Slatt was the first cop in attendance for the Weil accident, which will become Operation Sallic.

British Transport Police
Sergeant Jaget Kumar (Whispers Under Ground) is an urban explorer, expert potholer and the BTP’s Mulder and Scully.

River gods and goddesses
The Old Man of the Thames, a.k.a., Tiberius Claudius Verica, abandoned part of the river back in the mid-1900s, and the river claimed a drowning woman as Mama Thames. Lady Tyburn is one of Mama Thames’ children and the genius loci of the Thames as well as an Oxford graduate. Beverly Brook is another of her daughters, interested in Peter, and the hostage with Father Thames. Olympia and Chelsea are the goddesses of Counter’s Creek and the Westbourne. Uncle Bailiff ended up staying on as Mama Thames’ odd job man some years back when he arrived to collect an outstanding bank debt. Oxley is the Old Man’s right hand man. Neckinger, a.k.a., Nicky, is a nine-year-old river goddess of warmth and sunshine. Oberon is is the River Effra’s man who is babysitting Nicky. Ash is the hostage at Mama’s.

We met Zach Palmer in Whispers Under Ground, 3, and he’s a dodgy half-fairy who is now liaison between Crossrail and the Quiet People (Whispers Under Ground, 3). Artemis Vance has a magic stall at the Spring Court. Reynard was the perv who came onto Abigail.

“‘You know,’ said Zach, ‘until you came along I used to be the local loose cannon. Now people have started warning me about the dangers of associating with “you”.'”

The Little Crocodiles were…
…a student dining club illegally taught by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a theology professor (and wizard) at Magdalen College in Oxford. It’s believed that the Faceless Man was one of his students. Robert Weil was one of the members, and he and his Volvo were hit by Allen Frust. Lynda is Weil’s wife. Richard Lewis turns into a one-under and on the secondary list. He was in the Southwark planning department. Phillip Orante is his registered civil partner and a millionaire. Phillip’s mother comes to help him out. Grace is a receptionist at the Southwark Town Hall; she and Peter have family in the same part of Freetown. Louise Talacre works in the planning department as well.

The Skygarden Estate was…
…designed by Erik Stromberg, a German architect and the builder of the International-style West Hill House, now a National Trust property. The Skygarden estate was, supposedly, one of his masterpieces. It has been listed, and no one understands why. Margaret Shapiro is the property manager for West Hill House. Bruno Taut was a German architect Stromberg admired.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Tankridge, née Tuttle, will be one of Peter and Lesley’s neighbors. Sasha (he’ll be taking his A-level in mathematics this year) and Kevin are her kids. Emma Wall is the resident fallen princess. Jake Phillips is the “local activist, busybody, and thorn in the side of late stage capitalism”. Goth Boy. Lionel Roberts is a wannabe poet working security. Anthony Beswick is unemployed and has a ten-year-old daughter, Anthonia.

Peter looks back at the Skygarden and realizes that they’re living in Isengard.

Sky is a tree nymph living in one of the plane trees at the Skygarden.

George Nolfi is a rogue magician and a retired chartered surveyor. Gabriella is his granddaughter. Colin and Leech are reputable booksellers with Gavin Headley as the current proprietor. Patrick Mulkern is the book thief who becomes Operation Tinker with Duffy in charge. Richard Dewsbury was a drug dealer around Elephant and Castle. Sergeant William Daverc, a pioneer in community policing, is in charge of Dewsbury’s case.

We met the Quiet People in…
Whispers Under Ground, and Zach has taken responsibility for introducing them to live aboveground. Stephen was the one who buried Peter.

Varenka Debroslova, a.k.a., Comrade Major Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, was the former live-in nurse for Albert Woodville-Gentle, a.k.a., Faceless Man 1.0 (Whispers Under Ground, 3); she’s actually a Nochnye Koldunyi, a Night Witch, a type of Russian practitioner trained in combat. Born in 1921, she’s also aging backwards. Faceless Man 2.0 hires her for various jobs.

County Gard is a full service property management company that is supposed to be fixing the apartments, but it mostly collects rent, threatens late-payers, and works to turf out the tenants. Awa Shambir is a Somali cleaning lady.

Dave, a.k.a., Martin Brown, was one of the chainsaw guys; he drowned. Squinty Eyes, a.k.a., Barry, Pink Face, a.k.a., Max, and Danny Bates are part of the gang.

Vestigium is an imprint magic leaves on physical objects. Stromberg identified four types: Todesvestigium (death), Magievestigium (magic), Naturvestigium (nature), and Vestigium menschlicher Aktivität (human activity). The cream of English wizardry went to Ettersberg; only a few came back. Forma is how you think the magic into action. Lacuna is a hot spot of residual magic. A spell is a combination of forma. Signare is the individual signature of a wizard. Sensis illic is what Peter calls background vestigium. Isaacs are human magic users, particularly coppers.

Nightingale considers any magic user who dabbles a hedge witch. Nightingale’s Uncle Stanley was the magic one in the family; he suggested his nephew go to Casterbrook, Nightingale’s Hogwarts. The Weiße Bibliothek out of Cologne was the German center of magical practice until 1798. The Russian one Nauchno-Issledovatelskiy Institut Neobychnyh Yavleniy (the Scientific Research Institute for Unusual Phenomena; SRIUP) has been revived.

The Strip Club of Dr. Moreau (Moon Over Soho, 2) introduced the chimeras. The Pale Lady has that biting vagina dentata (we first meet her in Midnight Riot, 1). A Goblin Fair is a combination mobile social club, shabeen, and car boot sale for the supernatural community. Gentry is another term for fairy.

A MOP is a member of the public. HAT is a Homicide Assessment Team.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a bright yellow background with the signature black-and-white “aerial view” of London with the building outlines and words detailing neighborhoods, tourist sites, and more that are involved in this story. The red of the title swirls out in tails, one of which slides under the wide red ribbon of the River Thames and bleeds into a large splot in the middle of London.

The title is the Broken Homes of the Skygarden estate.

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