Rivers of London

“Good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling.”

Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London came recommended through several channels, so, when I inexplicably found myself in Waterstones last week, I, er, bought it.

(I can’t be trusted in bookshops. Even second-hand ones.)

DC Peter Grant of the Metropolitan Police is going about his usual business when he sees a ghost in Covent Garden. Soon he is investigating a supernatural killing spree taking place across London with the help of a hundred-year-old wizard by the name of Inspector Nightingale, Nightingale’s mysterious servant Molly, and a dog called Toby.

Rivers of London reminds me somewhat of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, except less weird. The writing is deliciously sardonic and crammed with references to popular culture; my favourite passage goes like this:

“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.

I did find, however, that the cynicism of the narrator sat uneasily with the magical parts of the novel – Peter’s actions to me felt far too credulous when compared with his no-nonsense tone, and at several points in the novel he dumps a whole load of information on the reader whose source is never explained. Much of it certainly doesn’t feel like things they teach you in police school. And what they do teach you at police school – i.e., basic observation – is ignored. Upon the question “Who can change their clothes in less than two seconds?” surely any detective worth his salt would say “One of those quick-change artists you see on Britain’s Got Talent every year.” But nobody does.

And, although the ending was good as far as it went, I never really felt like the mystery was fully resolved –  we find out who dunnit, but not why or even how. Nor were the characters particularly developed: I didn’t sympathise with any of them at all, and at one point, Peter has what looks suspiciously like a tantrum that appears to come from nowhere and to go nowhere:

I knew it was a quote, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of asking who’d said it.

He has literally only just met the character in question, and already he seems to have a grudge against him! This is very odd characterisation, in my opinion.

Rivers of London is nice as a bit of escapism, with a fascinating premise and a lovely sense of London’s history and geography. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work as a novel. I’ll leave you with a contender for Weirdest Dialogue Tag in Literature:

“Ghosts are real,” he took a sip.

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