Book Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Posted June 17, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 3 Comments

Book Review: Midnight Riot 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.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
Genres: Police Procedural, Urban Fantasy
Published by Random House on February 1, 2011
Pages: 310
Format: eBook
Source: the library

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Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost.

Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals, and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Also by this author: Whispers Under Ground, Broken Homes, The Hanging Tree, "The Furthest Station", Lies Sleeping, False Value, "What Abigail Did That Summer"

First in the Peter Grant hysterically funny urban fantasy/police procedural series and revolving around a police constable in London. (Rivers of London is its UK title. And why authors or publishers think it’s necessary to change the title when publishing in a different but still English-speaking country, I’ll never know…)

In 2011, Midnight Riot was nominated for the British Book Award for New Writer of the Year.

My Take

This was tooooo funny. I wanted to turn the page if only to read what Aaronovitch, er, Grant, was making fun of next. Yes, the story was a hoot as well. Aaronovitch’s style of writing feels like a blend of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld for the snark and Caitlin Kittredge’s Black London series for the feel of London, of Pete Caldecott’s interactions with Jack Winter, the craziness of the magic. I know, a weird combination, but that’s what it reminds me of.

“‘So magic is real,’ I said. ‘Which makes you a…what?’

‘A wizard.’

‘Like Harry Potter?’

Nightingale sighed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Not like Harry Potter.’

‘In what way?’

‘I’m not a fictional character,’ said Nightingale.”

Aaronovitch has come up with a clever twist on magical murder that is impossible to figure out how the murder is done and even tricker to figure out the why. He also does a good job of introducing the core characters for the series as well as setting us up for future encounters. I am looking forward to finding out how Ash does in London and what will be up next for Peter. Wait’ll you read about the burning boat and how the fire gets put out. My imagination went into overtime.

Poor Peter, that interview with Neblett is hysterically terrifying. It does make sense, though when Leslie explains why Neblett made the suggestion he did and sets us up for Peter’s evolution. He does have the proper responses down, though, lol. When Nightingale asks what Peter thinks about ghosts, Peter’s response is “I’m waiting confirmation from a senior officer.”

Peter makes a good point in response to Leslie wondering why everything in the world doesn’t seem different now that she knows magic exists. “Because it was there in front of you all the time. Nothing’s changed, so why should you notice anything.”

Too true. My sister has the cutest little dog, and one night I watched her “little legs whirring like a low-budget cartoon”. Just like Toby that night, lol.

I enjoyed those first magic lessons Peter endures. It gives a sense of the work involved in doing magic. It’s all that practice and his inquiring mind that gives Peter the background his intuition works on.

“…I was capable of flinging a fireball down the range at the dizzying speed of a bumblebee who’d met his pollen quota and was taking a moment to enjoy the view.”

Peter is of mixed race, and Aaronovitch makes good use of the cultural aspects of his Fula mother. It’s a good character twist and gives him more to work with. More with which to create a richer story. Of course, his relating Mother Thames’ back history adds to it as well, even though the history seems too simplistic. I did enjoy the Bow Street Runner info dump and how Aaronovitch makes it snarky through Peter. Actually, it surprised me how many info dumps Aaronovitch technically had in this story, but I loved how he integrated it. Writers could learn a lot from this. If only because Aaronovitch has so very many examples, lol. There’s also a useful bit in here on Roman names and their organization…

“The Empire liked to co-opt the local ruling elite whenever possible — it being easier to get your leg over a country if you fork out for dinner and a dozen roses first.”

Oh, boy. Vampires are…portrayed differently in Midnight Riot. The technique for getting rid of them is different as well. Eek.

“London had come late to the idea of outdoor café society and it wasn’t going to allow a bit of chill to get in the way now — especially since it had become illegal to smoke indoors.”

I do like Father Thames, his son, and his son’s wife. They’re such real people with that bit of a surprise behind them. I’m looking forward to getting to know them. Mama Thames kinda scares me. Especially Lady Ty…eeek.

Hmmm, “they’re not blind”, but “visually impaired”.

“…clusters of young people on school-sponsored holidays from all over Europe exercised their time-honored right to block the pavement from one side to the other.”

Oh, man. Star beer. I love Star beer! It’s a clever bribe Peter puts together. A very African bribe.

“Don’t be in a hurry to go into the water. It’s not a decision you want to rush into.”

The Story

It’s not how Peter saw his career moving forward, being seconded to the Case Progression Unit, i.e., data entry for HOLMES, while Leslie, the lucky girl, is being sent to the Westminster Murder Team unit. Only it seems that Peter jumped the gun. He’s being teamed with Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale who is considering him as an apprentice.

Only Seawoll (and others) thought there was an agreement about that sort of thing.

It’s a tricky style of murder, and just when Nightingale and Grant think they have the perpetrator caught, he takes Nightingale down and leaves Grant to swing in the breeze. It’s a tricky bit of murder to get around and prove your innocence, especially when you’re evicted from your residence, its reference materials…and one of the orisa is behind it all.

The Characters

Police Constable Peter Grant is a mixed-race, very junior policeman at the end of his probationary period, who discovers a fascination for magic. Richard Grant is his father, London’s least successful jazz legend, addicted to heroin. His mother is Fula, a tribe in Sierra Leone.

Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale is thought to be with Economic and Specialist Crime, a unit that handles “everything from Arts and Antiques to immigration and computer crime” and carries a silver-topped cane. The Folly is where Nightingale lives in Russell Square. It’s also the headquarters and official home of English magic. Molly is…actually, I don’t know what Molly is, but she has really sharp, pointy teeth in her really big mouth. She does for those who live at The Folly and knows hemomancy.

Dr. Abdul Haqq Walid specializes in cryptopathology and handles all of Nightingale’s special cases. He’s also a world-famous gastroenterologist. Frank Caffrey is the Fire Brigade liaison or Fire Investigation Officer who tidies up arson fires. He’s also a sergeant with the 4th Battalion of the Parachute regiment. Terry is Nightingale’s man on the inside at the Royal Opera House. Colonel Sir Thomas De Veil was a man so corrupt in eighteenth century London that he shocked his fellows. He was a magistrate at the time.

WPC Leslie May is a fellow probationer partnered up with Grant. Detective Chief Inspector Alexander Seawoll doesn’t want to believe in magic, and he does have a very good reputation for being thorough. And terrifying. Detective Sergeant Miriam Stephanopoulos from the Murder Squad is legendary, Seawoll’s right-hand woman, and a terrifying lesbian. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Folsom is in Lady Ty’s pocket. I think Sylvia is Folsom’s secretary. Inspector Francis Neblett was Peter’s shift commander. TSG are the Territorial Support Group.

Mother Thames is the goddess of the river, but only down from Teddington Lock. Her children are all named after rivers, whether they still exist or not: Beverly Brook is on tap to “facilitate” matters, the snooty Tyburn (call her Lady Ty if you value your life), Effra is another underground river, the traveling Crane, Black Ditch, Lea wears the pearls and twinsets, the nosy Fleet (Peter went to the same school as her kids), and Brent, the youngest. Uncle Bailiff is an old geezer who turned up to repossess Mama Thames’ furniture. Robert was the boyfriend who could no longer wait.

“We don’t get to choose our family. Thank God we can choose our friends.”

Father Thames, Tiberius Claudius Verica, is the god of the river from Teddington Lock on up. And no, Mother and Father are not related. Oxley [the Oxley Mills Stream] is married to Anna Maria de Burgh Coppinger Isis, and he works as Baba Thames’ advisor. Nightingale says he’s the second most important man at the camp. Colne Brook and Ash are the sons of Colne.

Nicolas Wallpenny is a ghost who has been dead for 120 years. Henry Pyke was murdered by Charles Macklin. William Booth founded the Salvation Army, which inspired the birth of the Skeleton Army.

William Skirmish is the headless man. Mrs. Shirley Palmarron is taking care of Skirmish’s dog, Toby. Seems Toby is “on the lam”. Brandon Coopertown is a successful television producer with BAFTAs, etc. August Coopertown is his angry Danish wife at home with the baby. Mr. and Mrs. Fischer are August’s parents. Martin Turner is a street performer. Sadun Ranatunga is a Sri Lankan refugee working at the Leicester Square Voyage movie theater. Nicola Fabroni and Eugenio Turco are heroin addicts from Naples. Celia Munroe is the nice respectable middle-class woman who goes ape. Georgina and Antonia are her daughters; Jennifer and Alex are their friends. Dr. Eric Framline was injured by a cycle courier, Derek Shampwell. The Hare Krishnas include Michael Smith, Henry MacIlvoy, and William Cattrington. Willard Jones is a lucky survivor. Gurcan Temiz of Tottenham was the doorman. Malcolm is a guide dog who went berserk. Terrence Pottsley has a “thicket of stainless steel growing out of his face”. Christopher Pinkman claims he’s innocent. St. John Giles is a rugby eight or some such who’s had a nasty accident. I think he deserved it…

St. Paul’s Church is referred to as the Actors’ Church. HOLMES is the Home Office Large Major Inquiry System and includes data from crimes. Peter calls it YouTube for cops. Sir Isaac Newton not only invented modern science, but systemized the practice of magic as well. Ettersberg seems to be a tragic event or place. Professor Phillip Pointer preforms a Punch and Judy show.

Vestigium is uncanny, “like a bright light; when you close your eyes it leaves an afterimage”. Dissimulo is a magic spell that can change your appearance. Forma is feeling (?) how the magic is shaped. Tactus disvitae is the smell of antilife. Lux is a spell to create light. Impello is a spell to move things. The kind of spell we’re accustomed to thinking about is actually a series of forma strung together.

Genii loci are the spirits of a place and get their power from their surroundings. Orisa are somewhere between a god and a genii locorum. A revenant is an unquiet spirit who wreaks havoc on the living in reprisal for a slight or injustice. Pikey is a rude word for gypsies. Vagina dentata is something men who don’t understand no should avoid. Nathaniel is a troll who used to sleep under Hungerford Bridge.

The Cover and Title

The cover makes me think of Jack Winter as well with this silhouette of Peter Grant in his black leather jacket, a fireball in one hand, a gun in the other. Behind Peter is a collage of swirling black smoke and a soft warm flare of orange behind Peter’s legs, all against a cold cream background. The title is an urban decay font angled into a Midnight Riot of mayhem, for the penultimate scene is that of the midnight riot of chi-chi opera fans.

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