Rivers of London, Part Two
In the second half of Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London, which I’m reading with Jodie of Bookgazing, we find out what this ghost the policeman has been tracking is up to—he is acting out the old story of Punch and Judy using real people. So of course our fearless hero sets out to foil his evil plan. We find out just enough about the magic and electronics mystery to satisfy curiosity, if not enough to actually explain it (readers get an idea of how it works from a bit of authorial hand-waving).
The fearless hero, Peter, is still more inept than most of the people around him, but he keeps trying–he’s the only person who might escape the notice of the more powerful beings long enough to survive. When his boss Nightingale assigns him library duty he admits he’s no help with the magical library “where the direct treatise on spells, forma and alchemy were kept, all of them written in Latin and so all Greek to me.” He does the legwork for Nightingale, performing “a necromantic ritual” in the garden of a church. When one of the river spirits attacks him with magic, he retaliates with a clumsy magical act but later makes up for it by emptying his savings account to bring a handsome gift to a higher-ranking river spirit. In the end, his most heroic act is resisting reaction. When he reaches a carefully designed peak of irritation and rage, he resists falling into the trap: “Mr Punch—the spirit of riot and rebellion—does what it says on the tin. This was him, the guy behind Henry Pyke, and he was fucking with my mind.” When he announces his intention to go “home to bed,” he begins the process that leads to the downfall of the villain, who finally addresses him saying “you’re not nearly as stupid as you look.”
By the second half of the novel, some of the attempts at humor fell flat for me. Rather than being charmed by the unexplained moment (as I am by the off-handed reference to a watermelon in Buckaroo Banzai or any mention of a phosphorescent coat rack on a beach) I was pretty much unmoved:
“A middle-aged man sat barefoot on the floor of the shop surrounded by hundreds of clear plastic wrappers. As I watched, he grabbed one of the wrappers and ripped it open to extract a pair of white ballet shoes. Carefully, the tip of his tongue emerging from the side of his mouth, the man tried to slip one of the shoes onto his big hairy foot. Unsurprisingly the shoe was too small to fit, no matter how hard the man pulled on the straps—until finally he ripped the seams open. The man held the ruined shoe in front of his face and burst into tears. When he flung them across the shop and reached for another pair, I left him to it—there are some things that man is not meant to know.”
But I did enjoy one of the last conversations Peter has with a member of the public he has sworn to serve and protect:
“I’ve already told the police what happened, but they didn’t believe me. Why should you?” he said.
“Because we’re the people that believe people that other people don’t believe,” I said.
“How can I know that?” he asked.
“You’re just going to have to believe me,” I said.
And that’s pretty much the best way to like this novel–you accept the world as it’s drawn, and sit back to enjoy the ride. There are two sequels, and I’m thinking of saving one for beach reading in July. What else would you suggest for enjoyable summer reading?