A little time ago (was it 2016 or 2017?) my daughter made me a birthday gift. Though this is nothing unusual it somehow leads to this review, because said gift had been a book, that marks the beginning of a series: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Described as a “Harry Potter for adults” I was curious, what I had got in my hands. A tale about wizards and witches but darker and denser than than the Potter books, with more evil doings and dead people all over? Or just a story with adults and not kids learning the ways of magic?
To my surprise it was neither but a wonderful mix of Urban Fantasy and a crime story, a good example of how problematic genres are. Though there is magic and sorcerers and ghosts and goddesses and gods “Rivers of London” turned out under the surface as a kind of good old fashiones detective story with the difference, that part of the detective’s work is done in magical ways. And that mix as well as the easy style of writing intrigued me to read on the series.
And now, that I’ve decided to take more time for reading, I finally took on part three: “Whispers Under Ground”
Perfectly a sequel
Be warned my friends! I have to start with a warning, ’cause “Whispers Under Ground” is no book to be read by people, who… Well, who don’t know the first two books (above mentioned “Rivers of London” and “Moon over Soho”).
Even though every book tells its own closed story, the “Whispers” is perfectly a sequel. Don’t start with it, start at the very beginning! You’ll miss a lot of background.
Yes, “Whispers Under Ground” bases on things told in the former two volumes. One can live with the characters introduced in Part One without having read the “Rivers”. At least with Peter Grand, the protagonist, a young Police Constable working for a special unit of the Metropolitan Police called “The Folly”, kind of an “X-Files” department. He’s telling the tale provides all that’s necessary to roughly understand the story and himself.
You might even be comfortable with Peter’s boss, DCI Nightingale. His part isn’t that big. But there are still things, you need to know to understand details. Who the hell is Tyburn and why (if you’re familiar with London’s topography) is she named after a river? Why does Lesley May wear a mask? Who is that faceless man, that’s mentioned again and again?
Riddles and even more riddles for the one, who doesn’t know, who the things had started. Of course you could do as I did with Tad William’s Osten Ard books and start with the sequel trilogy leaving the first series as a prequel. But I would not recommend that in the case of the Peter Grant series. It would be like starting Harry Potter with “The Goblet of Fire”. Lots of basic informations are missing.
But read in the line of events “Whispers Under Ground” is a perfect sequel, telling a story of its own and picking up the thread, that had been laid out in “Moon over Soho”. Well… At least mentioning said thread, though it has not all too much to do with the story told.
About the story – without too much spoilers
It is the time before Christmas, when PC Peter Grant, Wizard apprentice since the beginning of the year, gets a call to help investigate the murder of a James Gallagher, student of art and son of an U.S. American senator. Though the dead seems to be the victim of an ordinary homicide at first, Peter finds some strange remnants of magic – some vestigia, as the wizards, beg your pardon, the practitioners, called the traces left by magic.
Meanwhile after the events of book two Peter had managed to bring his colleague Lesley into the Folly to be (unofficially) trained in magic.
Pursuing the events, that led to the death of Gallagher, Lesley and Peter question suspects, learn a bit (or teach the reader a bit) about the history of London (be it true or just fiction), find an old folk living beneath London and as a side plot even pursue the Faceless Man, who began to terrorize London in “Moon over Soho”.
And of course the whole case is solved until Christmas. Just as it has to be.
“Whispers Under Ground” isn’t Ben Aaronovitch’s master piece. Actually it is, leaving the magic and the tiny jokes and references to pop culture out, a crime story as many an other crime story. It is good but not suberb. I actually thought sometimes I were reading some kind of “Midsomer Murders” with a pinch of magical ingredients. But on the other side it might well be simply a picture of normal police work. Having magic in a story though I expected (maybe wrongfully) some more action, kinda Harry Potter like (or maybe Gandalf like) magical battles.
But having a series of books it is not wrong to slow down the pace a bit, give the protagonist’s days a bit more normality. If there is anything normal to a Wizard’s apprentice.
Even though Mr. Aaronovitch had left some things lying on the ground. Slowing the story down would have been a good opportunity to develope the characters. Had Peter been training hard in the first two books and developed abilities in magic, there wasn’t told anything about his trials and failures in his apprenticeship in “Whispers Under Ground”. Well, nearly. Peter told a bit about learning a deflective spell.
Having Lesley in the Folly were a good chance to develope the relationship between her and Peter, no matter in which direction. Mr. Aaronovitch missed that chance.
Pursuing the Faceless Man – even as a side plot – could have been a bigger part. It could have been connected to the case. Could, not should. However, if the Faceless Man is to play a bigger part in the future (which I’ll know when I’ve read the next books), it should have been worth more than only two or three short mentions. In my oppinion Mr. Aaronovitch makes even the mistake, to make the search for the Faceless a bigger topic at the beginning, just to drop it until the epilogue.
And the end, the solution… Well… It’s been a bit like in some old detective story like “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” or some Hercule Poirot story. Or “Midsomer Murders”. Peter talks to some people from under ground, then sends Lesley and an observing FBI-Agent out of the room and has found the killer twenty minutes later (without telling, how he did), the latter one is brought to interrogation and questioned by Peter – it’s a bit thin. Like “Midsomer…” – ok, I said it once too often.
The best reason to read the book though
Still there is a good reason to read “Whispers Under Ground”: It’s simply fun.
Whenever I read a story in First-person narrative, I think about some old Film Noire. Whenever the protagonist of a crime story tells the story as “I”, Philip Marlowe comes to my mind. Or Spenser. Mike Hammer. Thomas Magnum.
Peter Grant’s no hard boiled detective. He is actually all but perfect. Just as all of us. Even though I had the light-hearted voice of Magnum (respectivly his German dub Norbert Langer) in mind.
Another part of the fun reading are the references to pop culture. When Peter goes underground thinking of Dungeons & Dragons games or remembers training his deflecting spell using a paint ball gun on a stand with an accuracy that would fit the Storm Trooper’s shooting abilities, I could not do anything but to nod smiling. It’s true, that it is absolutely not dangerous to meet a Storm Trooper. If he shoots at you, he’ll hit everything but you. Just be careful, if you’re just standing around. You might be the collateral damage.
Yes, I missed the thrill of the first two books. But I would not like to miss “Whispers Under Ground” at all. If the next books are depending on the former as part three does, it might proove useful to have read this book.
I recommend “Whispers Under Ground”, but I do not recommend it full-hearted but only as a part of a series. Funny and quick to read the book misses some chances for developement of characters and the story in whole. But it is clearly a bridge to the events to come. Or to the events not yet read.
|Fun:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Writing style:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Thrill:||(3.0 / 5)|
|Average:||(3.7 / 5)|
P.S. I sometimes wonder about the translations of book titles. As the German title is (put into English) “Whisper under Baker Street”, said street doesn’t play any part except as the crime scene. The folk, that’s whispering is simply under ground. But that’s one of the mysteries I’ll most likely never understand.