Ben Aaronovitch: Broken Homes

Capture Broken homes

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on an housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

Full of warmth, sly humour and a rich cornucopia of things you never knew about London, Aaronovitch’s series has swiftly added Grant’s magical London to Rebus’ Edinburgh and Morse’s Oxford as a destination of choice for those who love their crime with something a little extra.

London’s rivers are full of gods – or rather genius loci. There are Fair Folk living in the Underground System and ghosts haunting the streets who can definitely pack a punch. There are real cat girls – and worse things – in Soho, and vampires in Purley.

(Incidentally, that last section of blurb on the dust jacket of the first book was what inspired me to take it to the counter. I mean, vampires in my home suburb? HOT DAMN.)

And there are, inevitably, the people who have to clean up the aftermath of such forces. The Fuzz, yes, but also those equipped to deal with the more supernatural side of old London Town. People such as DCI Thomas Nightingale, formerly the last wizard in London, born in 1900 but aging backward since 1970, for…some reason. Plus Police Constable Peter Grant, son of a jazz legend and an African matriarch, the newest official wizard on the scene…until he was knocked out of that spot by Police Constable Lesley May, determined to find a solution to the injuries malicious forces inflicted upon her.

If you haven’t read the first three books in this series, you really should do so before you dive into this one. Not only because a lot more of Broken Homes will make sense rather than confusing you, chock-a-block with references to past goings on as it is…but also because the series, as a whole, is really funny. And informative; it says a lot when police procedure and facts about the city – mostly gleaned from Peter having to stand opposite informative plaques or interesting shop windows on those long nights on duty – is actually more interesting at times than the fantastical elements in a fantasy novel.

Then again, this is kind of Aaronovitch’s schtick. Rivers of London, as a whole, is more than a love letter to the city; it’s a complete and utter celebration of it, albeit a mild rude gesture to everywhere else. Particularly Scotland, and Norwich. (Couldn’t resist the crack about inbreeding, could you, Aaronovitch…)

Peter, Lesley and Nightingale make for a wonderfully snarky team as they investigate suspicious murders, cope with various supernatural denizens of London to whom mortal law rarely applies – a fact that rankles quite a bit – and attempt to track down an ominous force that’s been hanging over the series since the second book. Namely, an ethically challenged magician (The biracial Peter, understandably, dislikes the term ‘black magician’) who’s been carrying out some distinctly dodgy activities, and teaching others to do the same.

The novel is by no means perfect. It does drag at times, much like its predecessor in the series, Whispers on the Underground, and there are some plot points that still remain unanswered, such as the actual motivations of the villain, what exactly happened at Ettersburg (a battle in WWII that purged Britain of most of its wizards) and – a pet peeve here – what is up with Molly. Molly being the maid at the main trio’s base of operations, who’s possessed of long black hair, rather sharp teeth and a mysterious background that stubbornly remains mysterious. Every time I crack open one of these books, I’m hoping to at least come away with an inkling of who Molly really is and why she’s been so reluctant to set foot outside the building ever since she was brought there in the early 1900s – but aside from some information in the second book Moon over Soho, Molly remains a fascinating but unexplained character.

Still, the climax was something that I really wasn’t expecting; it hurt. A lot.

Check out this book, and this series. Sometimes it’s long-winded and sometimes you feel as if you want to leave Aaronovitch alone with an anthropomorphic personification of London for a while, but it’s a funny, rewarding and at times heart-rending experience. And funny. Did I mention funny?


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