Rivers of London, Volume 4: Detective Stories

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

This volume of the ‘Rivers of London’ graphic novel series takes a slightly different format to the previous ones. Rather than being a single story, it’s a set of short stories, with the overarching narrative of Peter taking his detective exam and these being episodes from his history being told to his examiner (something which works well for comics – as each story is an issue long). This format does let us move around in time, and some of the stories are being told when Lesley May was still Peter’s partner, not his enemy.

The focus of these stories is very much on Peter, with the supporting cast taking a background role (poor Molly is relegated to a single walk-on part – even Toby gets more screen time than she does!). This is understandable given the framing narrative but I did miss Nightingale, Guleed and the rest. One thing I did very much like about this one is more time inside Peter’s head. It can’t be as much as the books, but again the format of this story comes to our aid, as these are being told in retrospective, so Peter knows the outcome and is relating the story.

The art is still lovely and Sullivan and Guerrero have become more assured as the series has progressed. The only major complaint is just the usual one – can we have more written word Peter Grant, please? I like the graphic novels and all, but I’d like to see the main plot being progressed some too.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785861710
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2017

Rivers of London: Black Mould

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Another fun outing for PC Peter Grant in sequential art storytelling format. This time, DC Guleed (hurrah, she’s back, I did miss her in ‘Night Witch’!) accidentally runs into some “weird bollards” while checking out a house as a favour to a friend so calls in everyone’s favourite nerd/copper/apprentice.

This volume felt quite light and fluffy compared to the child kidnap of the previous volume but a lot of fun. I particularly liked the return of Tom Debden from the first graphic novel and Nightingale having to deal with a little bit of fallout from that, which was sort of hilarious. No sign of Lesley or the Faceless Man this time round, which I’m perfectly comfortable with. Keep Lesley in particular for small doses, she’s much more effective that way. Mind you, I’d have preferred more Molly, but ain’t that always the case. And when she does show up it’s in a hilarious and very cute ‘kitty’ night shirt. Good show, Aaronovitch et al, good show!

The art is still consistently good; cartoony but carries the tone of the story very well. There’s a great sequence that’s a few pages long and entirely silent, being carried by the art. Creepy and very effective.

As much as I enjoy the graphic novels, I do sort of wish Aaronovitch would space them out a bit more and spend more time on the novels. I miss being inside Peter’s head more, with his first-person narrative. Of course, I’ll keep buying them, but it would be nice to get more long-form written-word storytelling.

Book details

ISBN: 9781785855108
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2017

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 5 stars

Peter Grant is back in London and back on form. When Tyburn calls him up to call in a favour by keeping her daughter out of any fallout from a drug death, Peter is forced to encounter another alien species: the rich. Investigating the death, involving wealth, power and poor taste in furnishings Peter, along with his usual backup crew, and some new additions, expand the world of the river goddesses with flair, pizazz and the appropriate forms, to be filled out in triplicate.

I’d forgotten just how much I missed Peter’s narrative voice. He’s a brilliant narrator; the combination of sarcasm, intelligence and geekery makes him a joy to read. Much kudos to Aaronovitch for keeping that voice just right. After the slightly disappointing, rushed ending to [book: Foxglove Summer], I was glad to see better pacing here, with an ending that doesn’t make me feel cheated. Yes, the ongoing plot involving the Faceless Man is still ongoing; and yes we only get tantalising glimpses of wider British magic, involving Lady Helena, but the plot of this book is still tied up and the Faceless Man plot has moved on, with promises of more revelations to come. One of the few disappointments in the book, actually, is that now that the Faceless Man has been identified, he turns out to be just another common, or garden, kipper. Just an old racist in the Nigel Farage mould, dreaming of a time while Britannia ruled the waves.

I did find it difficult to keep track of the various rich teenagers and their Responsible Adults, although that might have been part of the point. Police work, as Peter keeps telling us, is mostly about banging on and on and getting right into the detail. Still, with the involvement of her daughter, we do get to see a different side to Lady Ty, and her last scene with Peter is actually quite touching, as she tries to do the Big Sister thing for Beverly.

The supporting cast are all present and correct, complete with extended cameo from Lesley May. Peter’s new partner, Sahra Guleed is an interesting character in her own right, and, unlike May, happily avoiding handling actual magic, although as the one who’s been involved more of the Weird Stuff than anyone else outside the Folly, she’s now the unofficial third in command and has had some nice character development of her own.

So Aaronovitch is back on form and this book was worth the wait. Still huge amounts of fun with brilliant characters, I’ve already ordered the next graphic novel to help tide me over until the next full novel.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575132559
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2016

The Home Crowd Advantage (Peter Grant, #1.5)

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Nice wee short story set early in the Rivers of London sequence, during the London Olympics of 2012, this sees Peter having to deal with History and Conscience while Nightingale is away. As always, Peter’s distinctive narrative voice is a joy to read and it has the usual mix of modern policing and utter geekiness that I enjoy so much. This also widens the world a little bit, with some details of French magic and what happened to it.

Book details

Year of publication: 2014

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #3)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

A chance conversation leads Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate a case that the doctor is convinced is murder, but all the evidence points to a natural death. But as he investigates further and the bodies start to rack up, it’s a race to find the murderer before he becomes one of the victims.

Although I’m a bit of a fan of Agatha Christie and like that style of whodunnit, I’ve never read anything by Dorothy L. Sayers, but a mystery-loving friend of mine has talked about her in the past and I found this in a second hand bookshop. Peter Wimsey is an interesting character, more self-doubting than, say, Hercule Poirot but putting on a whimsical face. He’s got his sidekick in the form of his butler Bunter, and the the police inspector Charles Parker as well as Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster who is employed to make the sort of discrete enquiries that only an elderly lady of a certain variety can.

While some casual racism exists in the book, I thought it was interesting to see how Sayers portrayed it as the lower classes who engaged most in it, while the aristocrat Lord Peter and middle class Inspector Parker treat Hallelujah Dawson most sympathetically. It’s difficult to know where the author fell along this axis, but I’m tempted to say that she sided with her protagonist on this. The language, of course, is shocking to modern ears, with the ‘N’ word thrown around quite casually, but of course, it’s a product of its time, and like I say, I think it’s handled well, and in service of the plot, by the author.

I enjoyed the story, the mystery and the writing here and I’ll certainly look out for more of Lord Peter’s[*] adventures

[*] although in my head the ‘Lord’ honorific normally goes along with a title or surname, it seems that Lord Peter isn’t the heir to the family title (the Duchy of Denver), so as second son, the honorific goes with the first name

Book details

Publisher: Four Square Books
Year of publication: 1927

The Complete Father Brown Stories

By G.K. Chesterton

Rating: 3 stars

It’s possible that I read this book too quickly, but I must confess that it started to wear thin after a while. That’s somewhat understandable as this volume collects together five books of Father Brown stories, totalling fifty-two stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the early stuff, in The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown, but it started to wear as it went on. There’s no denying that Chesterton is a fine writer; there is some delightful use of language here (again, more noticeable to me in the early volumes) but I did start to resent some of the straw men that Chesterton would set up in opposition to his detective. Every atheist was a shady, arrogant or nasty fellow; every scientist arrogantly dismissive of religion. Doing that cheapened the work for me. (aside: I wonder what Father Brown would make of today’s England of openly atheist public figures and inter-faith dialogue?)

According to the introduction, Chesterton, like Conan Doyle before him, grew tired of his detective after the first couple of volumes and put him to one side, only bringing him out after that when finance demanded it. I assume this is why the latter stories sparkle less than the earlier.

I have issues with the style of detection as well, in which the author rarely provides misdirected clues to the reader to allow them to “play along”. Brown seems to have “flashes of intuition” and a knowledge of psychology which allows him to realise who the perpetrator is without that whole tedious requirement for evidence. Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but it did often feel that the answer to the puzzle came out of nowhere at the end of the story.

So read these stories for the beautiful use of language, space them out and maybe skip the last couple of volumes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853260032
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Year of publication: 1929

The Moonstone

By Wilkie Collins

Rating: 4 stars

The Moonstone of the title is a magnificent, sacred Indian diamond, stolen by a soldier in the British Raj and later given to his niece as a birthday present, whereupon it immediately goes missing. Just under half the book tells the story leading up to the disappearance, and the rest tackles the consequences and efforts to recover it.

Stylistically, it’s similar to Collins’ other famous work, The Woman in White with a number of different first person narratives telling the story through time. My favourite narrator was the first, the inestimable Gabriel Betteredge, old servant of the family and devotee of Robinson Crusoe. He’s got a charming narrative voice and his frequent ramblings and asides are great fun to read.

Gabriel’s polar opposite is Miss Clack, a creation, in my opinion, to rival The Woman in White’s Count Fosco, and yet also hilarious (in short doses). She’s a mockery of the kind of holier-than-thou “Christian” who Collins probably did encounter more frequently than he would like liked. She starts of as a harmless old biddie but as her narrative goes on, I found her creepier and creepier, possibly because I found her complete lack of empathy and deep selfishness, disguised as piety, all too believable.

Lots of fun, very easy to read and (for readers of my edition, at least), not as intimidating as it looks: the paper’s just very thick!

Book details

ISBN: 9781847490094
Publisher: Oneworld Classics
Year of publication: 1868

Rivers of London: Body Work

By Ben Aaronovitch

Rating: 4 stars

Peter Grant is back in this short aside from the main series. Appearing to take place sometime after Broken Homes this lovely graphic novel sees Peter having to deal with possessed cars. Joining Aaronovitch for writing duties is fellow Doctor Who scribe Andrew Cartmel (of Cartmel Masterplan fame). I’m not sure I can see a difference in the writing with the co-writer, although the format does mean that we’re in Peter’s head a lot less than usual, so we have less of the running commentary that makes the novels so much fun. However, this is made up for by the art, which is rather lovely and all the characters totally fitted with what was in my head, except, perhaps for DI Stephanopoulos. Peter himself and Molly were probably my favourites in terms of their visual representation.

This is short enough that after putting it down, I picked it up again five minutes later and read it again in a short space of time. There are, apparently, more graphic interludes to Peter’s story planned and I shall look forward to buying and reading them.

Book details

ISBN: 9781782761877
Publisher: Titan Comics
Year of publication: 2016

The Chain of Chance

By Stanisław Lem

Rating: 3 stars

An ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physique have all died in the same area. Our narrator (who I don’t think is ever fully named) is involved in the investigation to try and solve the mystery.

There is a sort of ‘feel’ to East European/Russian novels (SF or not) that I’ve read of this period and The Chain of Chance fits into it. The book feels very impersonal, especially in the early sections where this narrator is driving around Rome with electrodes attached to his chest, wearing a dead man’s clothes, for no obvious reason. The plot is mostly infodumped on us as the narrator goes to seek the assistance of a French computer scientist in the middle of the book and we get a bit more warmth being injected into the protagonist at this point. Once I got through the infodump, I started to care a little about him and feel that his world was more than just monochrome and emotionless and I was somewhat drawn into the mystery, but even the solution to that feels very Eastern bloc with the idea that everything is chance.

The scene in the airport with the girl was quite random and didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. It seemed like it was just there to inject a bit of action into an otherwise dry story. For me, it felt too jarring to do that properly, though.

So an odd book. It’s the third Lem novel that I’ve read, after Solaris and Tales of Pirx the Pilot and probably the one that I’ve enjoyed the most, but that cold, impersonal feeling is still there. I probably won’t read any more of his work, I think (although maybe I’ll give Pirx another go).

Book details

ISBN: 9780515051384
Publisher: Jove Books
Year of publication: 1976

The City & The City


Rating: 4 stars

This intriguing book posits the two cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. These cities aren’t just neighbours, they sit on top of and alongside each other. Some posit a ‘Cleavage’ in deep history, others a Conjoining, but the origin of the cities is lost in antiquity. What is remarkable about the cities is how they live together: citizens in both are trained from an early age to ‘unsee’ and ‘unhear’ everything in the other, from the buildings and architecture to the people sharing the streets to the cars on the road. And overseeing it all is Breach, which enforces the separation with an iron fist.

In Beszel, Inspector Tyador Borlú finds himself heading up the case of a murdered woman, which turns out to be more than he expected, and soon finds himself having to make the journey of a few steps physically, but enormous distance psychologically, to Ul Qoma and eventually gets on the trail of a mysterious third city, rumoured to share the space between the other two.

There’s a solid hard-boiled murder mystery at the core of this book, and Borlú is a good hard-boiled detective, trying to do what’s right while navigating the labyrinthine laws and mores of his society. The real stars of the book are Beszel and Ul Qoma. It’s fascinating seeing Miéville constructing this very believable twinned but very much separate society and the effort that both sets of citizens go to to maintain it. Every so often, Miéville throws in something that lets you know that this isn’t some fantasy world: the city and the city are somewhere on the edge of Europe, in a world where there’s Coke, Google, and so forth. It makes them feel even odder, but at the same time, there’s nothing that I couldn’t particularly believe might go on somewhere in the depths of Eastern Europe.

The language of the book is quite spare and easy to read, although I did find something about it that meant that I had to parse a sentence a few times before I got it. It’s not the writing or the grammar, but sometimes oddly placed commas or (lack of) paragraph breaks just made me pause and think a bit. It just goes to show how important that these structures are to our writing, no matter what some people might insist.

An enjoyable book that definitely keeps you on your toes while reading, and never ends up going where you think it will.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330534192
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2009

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