Rivers of London is the long-awaited original series from popular TV and tie-in writer Ben Aaronovitch. A darkly comedic police procedural, Rivers is a deliciously more-ish book that is nearly impossible to put down.
The book (and presumably, the forthcoming series) features Peter Grant, a somewhat crappy police officer who suddenly discovers that he's, well, magical. Or at least, suddenly aware of the magical. Young Grant was on the fast track to a bureaucratic desk job, but now his life is much, much more interesting. Grant is poached for duty by Chief Inspector Nightingale, the Met's divisional head (and the entire division) for Creepy Magical Stuff.
It all happens just in time. The Rivers of London, at least, their magical embodiments, are having a turf war - it is in the pushing and shoving phase, but still, if it goes wrong, the city will be in bad shape. Grant is also juggling a second supernatural case - a nasty serial-killer of a poltergeist is beating people to death and making their faces fall off.
The Occult Detective has transformed into a recognisable genre stereotype. The 'O.D.' generally has a supernatural knack but, more commonly, solves problems through fast talking, "people skills" and general cunning. He's a bit of an outsider, something exacerbated by the fact that he Knows stuff that The Rest of Us don't. He's the tarnished knight type - cynical due to the problems in his own past. And 98% percent of the time? He wears a long coat.
Peter Grant (and CDI Nightingale) are the most recent branches of the motley family tree that includes Felix Castor, Harry Dresden, Johns Taylor, Constantine and Silence, and even, arguably, Doctor Who. All slightly-detached, urbane fellows with an outsider complex, floor-length coats and a knack of spotting solutions from a Lovecraftian angle. If Peter Grant bucks the trend, it is only because he still wears his patrolman's uniform.
If anything, Grant is a little too much of an outsider. He blithely strolls through the book with a clinical detachment that borders on the unflappable - even when he's caught on fire or, you know, someone's face falls off. Part of it is Mr. Aaronovitch's humorously objective writing style - but there are still points where I wanted to check the lead for a pulse. Like Constantine or Castor, Grant needs the occasional smack to remind him that he's still part of the human race - but unlike those two, it isn't rooted in cynicism, more an airy casual acceptance of events that is, at times, even more alien.
Where Mr. Aaronovitch separates his work from the trench-coated crowd is with his depiction of London. I'm a PROUD LONDONER (e.g. I moved here ten years ago, still cheer for foreign sports teams and will inevitably move to the suburbs as soon as I save up the money) and was wildly pleased to see proper descriptions of MY city.
Physically, emotionally and historically, Mr. Aaronovitch captures the unglamorous essence of urban London life. From stumbling over drunks to sweating on the tube, the informative plaques on every paving stone and the insane difficulty of Central London driving... this is the city in all of its banal glory. John Constantine and Felix Castor wander through Londons soaked through with mysticism - Peter Grant patrols streets with lined with CCTV and German tourists. Grant's detachment helps convey his (and, clearly, Mr. Aaronovitch's) love/hate relationship with the city as well. It is insane, clunky and messy, but who could possibly imagine living anywhere else?
Peter Grant is a late, and welcome, addition to a long line of irritable, sartorially-questionable saviours. If the he doesn't seem to be taking things too seriously... and the entire narrative style is a bit tongue in cheek... and the setting is a bit grittier than expected... that all sums up to an entertaining atmosphere that keeps the pages turning. There may be not a lot of thriller-style tension, but there is a lot of action, all excellently orchestrated in the streets and streams of London. Rivers of London is an easy book to pick up and an near-impossible one to put down.