Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Midnight Riot

First, a disclaimer: When it comes to author Ben Aaronovitch, I have a well-known, self-avowed tendency to gush. I have adored his writing since the late 80s, when he was one of the young writers who creatively revitalized Doctor Who just as the public lost interest in the series, then shepherded it into the 90s with several extremely well-received and amazingly well-written Doctor Who novels (to say nothing of the inspiration he provided to other excellent Doctor Who writers like Kate Orman, Marc Platt, and Paul Cornell.) So when I say, "Ben Aaronovitch's novel 'Midnight Riot' (released in the UK as 'Rivers of London') is absolutely magnificent," I will agree that those words would not surprise anyone who knew me.

That said, Ben Aaronovitch's new novel 'Midnight Riot' is absolutely magnificent. Aaronovitch's great skill is that he can slip effortlessly into any genre; in 'Transit', one of his older Doctor Who novels, he out-Gibsoned Gibson in a cyberpunk pastiche, and in 'The Also People', he did an Iain M. Banks pastiche that was superior to any of the actual Culture books. Here, he does "urban fantasy", and gives you a book that feels like what Neil Gaiman was aiming for with 'Neverwhere' but never really had the chance to make work.

The novel concerns Peter Grant, a rookie policeman who strikes up a conversation with a witness who turns out to be a ghost while securing a crime scene, and finds out that there's a place for people who can sense the supernatural in the Metropolitan Police Force. He winds up apprenticed to the only police wizard in Britain, and has to learn the ins and outs of magic while solving a string of grisly murders and brokering a peace between the river spirits of London. (Hence the original title, which is more evocative but probably didn't have enough "sex appeal" to market in America.)

It's a solid plot idea by itself, but as always, what makes it work is that Aaronovitch is so bloody readable. Every damn line flows smoothly and melodiously into the next, every scene keeps you fascinated. From Peter's first encounter with London vampires, which is resolved the way everyone should resolve problems with the undead, to his gloriously poetic final confrontation with a murderous revenant, everything pulls you along so smoothly and easily that I went straight from the first book to the sequel, "Moon Over Soho", without skipping a beat. The main character is likable (and mixed-race, because one of Ben Aaronovitch's many many positive qualities is that he makes a solid effort to walk the talk on multiculturalism.) And the supporting cast is so great that I don't want to talk any more about the plot because I don't want to spoil anything.

And I don't. I really want everyone to experience this novel, because it's great. Ben Aaronovitch is a great writer who I am profoundly glad to reacquaint myself with, and I can't recommend this book enough.

But again, when it comes to Ben Aaronovitch, I have a tendency to gush.

1 comment:

Lowell Francis said...

Had it in my wish list- now I think I'll go ahead and order it.