Rivers of London
It’s been a while since I laughed out loud reading a book, but Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London definitely got me going. Some of it was just tone–the characters would be having a perfectly reasonable conversation in the context of their always-peculiar situation and then suddenly the conversation would take a turn.
Jodie from Bookgazing introduced me to this novel, saying that she had tried it and “found the main character very much helped along by being cast as a special, special snowflake, in comparison to his much more talented female colleague.” That does happen, early on, but it got so much better so quickly that I wasn’t bothered by it, forewarned as I was. In fact, I found the first-person narrator, Peter, charming when he describes his female colleague, Lesley, as a “better copper” and himself as “easily distracted,” as it becomes obvious that one of the reasons he is easily distracted from physical evidence is that he can sense magic.
Jodie and I picked Rivers of London to read and discuss together partly because the first book we discussed together–Total Oblivion, More or Less–centers on the Mississippi, and I thought it was time to read one that features a river on her side of the pond. Also I was tickled by the blurb from Diana Gabaldon: “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” As any self-respecting novel about magic written after the Harry Potter series must, it refers to him:
“So magic is real,” I said. “Which makes you a…what?”
“Like Harry Potter?”
Nightingale sighed. “No, he said, “not like Harry Potter.”
“In what way?”
“I’m not a fictional character.”
It does strike me as a very British book. I had to look up “paracetamol” again, to be reminded that it’s acetaminophen, or as we call it at my house, Tylenol. I got stuck on the description of a lavish breakfast menu and had to look up what the difference is between kedgeree, which is flaked haddock, and kippers, which are “kippered” herring. I didn’t have to look up “black pudding” because I had recently seen Ron consume some at a B&B in Haworth.
The humor often begins with a fish-out-of-water situation and then goes through a couple of allusions to the punch line, which makes the fictional situation seem more real, since we all—real and fictional alike–recognize the allusions:
“Her mother is the Thames, you know.”
“Really,” said Lesley. “Who’s your dad, then?”
“That’s complicated,” said Beverley. “Mum said she found me floating down the brook by the Kingston Vale dual carriageway.”
“In a basket?” asked Lesley.
“No, just floating,” said Beverley.
“She was spontaneously created by the midichlorians,” I said.
Later, when Beverley accompanies Peter to a police interview, he says:
“Good afternoon. My name’s Peter Grant. I’m from the police and this is my colleague Beverley Brook, who’s a river in south London.” You can get away with stuff like that with civilians because their brains lock in place on the word “police.”
Peter and Lesley, along with his supervisor Nightingale, who is “much older than he looks” and doesn’t understand any kind of modern technology, embark on trying to solve a case that gets so scary that at one point Peter admits “I certainly wanted to scream, but I remembered that, right then and there, Lesley and I were the only coppers on the scene, and the public doesn’t like it when the police start screaming: it contributes to an impression of things not being conducive to public calm.”
So the first half of this novel has been laugh-out-loud funny, filled with interesting characters and clues to an intriguing case. I made myself pause before reading the second half, but I can hardly wait to find out about whether doing a spell can really suck magic out of a cell phone or computer. Jodie, what are you most eager to find out next?
Please hop over to Bookgazing and take a look at Jodie’s reactions to the first half of this novel, and then we’ll discuss its conclusion next Monday. Does it sound like fun to you?