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Rivers of London

June 11, 2012

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?”
“A wizard.”
“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?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2012 8:05 am

    And the second one, ‘Moon Over Soho’ is just as good. I’m waiting for the third ‘Whispers Under Ground’ to turn up at the library.

    • June 11, 2012 9:13 am

      They’re a little harder to get over here–the third one isn’t available until July 31. But since you say the second one is just as good, I’m going to order it!

  2. June 11, 2012 8:36 am

    This sounds like a book I’d love – putting it on the top of the read-next pile. Thanks!

    • June 11, 2012 9:14 am

      I’ve been told that if you know London, you’ll enjoy this novel even more, because he talks about lots of specific places.

  3. June 11, 2012 11:16 am

    This one sounds really good! I’m a sucker for books that a described as “British.” That dry sense of humor gets me every time.

    • June 12, 2012 9:54 am

      Jodie talks about how typically British the humor is in her post. I think I missed some of it.

  4. drgeek permalink
    June 11, 2012 2:08 pm

    It’s nice to hear that a former Doctor Who script editor (and novelization writer) from the late 1980’s has made good with an original novel. The dialogue and script ideas from his years were, I thought, a return to form for a series that had been lost in the weeds for a few years. Alas, it was not enough to save the show from hiatus for over a decade.

    • June 12, 2012 9:55 am

      I do tend to like novels by former screenwriters. They tend to be good at plot and meta-situations, which I find amusing.

  5. June 11, 2012 8:57 pm

    This sounds good to me too. Yay! I think I’ll like something you like!

    • June 12, 2012 9:55 am

      I’ll give you more of a verdict next Monday, with the conclusion.

  6. June 12, 2012 6:43 am

    I’m already tbr’d this from a mention you mentioned earlier. Sounds entertaining in many ways.

    • June 12, 2012 9:56 am

      It is quite entertaining; I look forward to my chances to read it.

  7. June 12, 2012 9:45 am

    Yes, actually. Although I think I missed the first allusion that you mentioned….which makes me feel silly. What ARE they alluding to?

    • June 12, 2012 9:52 am

      The first allusion is to Moses, discovered floating down the river in a basket. The second allusion is to Star Wars, when Anakin (who grows up to be Darth Vader) is said to have been formed spontaneously by the midichlorians, which make up “the force.” It’s the Star Wars version of a virgin birth.

      • Jodie permalink
        June 14, 2012 10:52 am

        Oh I seeeee! I did not get that joke at all.I guess seeing Star Wars five times really isn’t enough 😉 Have you seen any Dr Who btw? I should have asked before we started as Aaronovitch was a Who script writer. I always forget that show isn’t quite such a big deal for shaping forms of humour in the US, because I’ve spent so much time watching how the jokes happen and all the shows that have come out of the Who stable of writers (Sherlock, Torchwood, Queer as Folk) and the progams that are a little bit influenced by them (I think Merlin is, some people might not).

        Anyway, I’m dying to see how you feel about Peter’s special snowflake status by the end of the book. I like him well enough, but I prefer the secondary characters which is a bit of a disadvantage when he’s the narrator.

        • June 15, 2012 8:06 am

          I’ve seen about ten Doctor Who episodes, shown to me by various enthusiasts over the years. I always like the episodes, but don’t seek them out on my own.
          I like Peter because I find him mild and unassuming. He’s not as powerful or clever as the other characters, but he keeps doing his job.

  8. June 13, 2012 8:58 am

    “the public doesn’t like it when the police start screaming”-Ha! Yes, I think this book sounds like one I would enjoy!

    • June 13, 2012 10:27 am

      From what I know about your reading tastes, I think you would have a good time with it!

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