Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant.

I could almost make that my entire review.

I have a friend I met when we both worked at Barnes & Noble many years ago. She went off to school and then to New York to seek her fortunes, and she is a) blessed with a great many friends and b) an even worse correspondent than I am, so we don’t email or call or any of that very often. Now and then, though, if we’re going to be in the same city at the same time, we get together, and it’s almost as though the time since the last time we met up never existed – we find our old footing and have a terrific time.

Peter Grant is a little like that. Months go by; he doesn’t call, doesn’t write, but then he bursts back into my life as if he never left and I have a few hours of tremendous fun with him. As fictional characters go, Peter is one of those I would most like to meet, share a pint and a kebab, go to a movie with. Tagging along on a murder investigation is fun, too, even when it involves a schlep through the sewers; there’s where the “fictional” part comes in handy, as my schlep doesn’t involve the stink.

I loved this book, because I got to hang out with Peter – and, yay, Lindsey, and Nightingale, and (briefly) Toby and Molly and Dr. Walid. I loved seeing Lindsey growing in her new role and continuing to recover from the events of the first book. I loved seeing her relationship with Peter beginning to heal as well. I loved the dialogue, both internal – Peter to reader – and between characters. And of course I loved the Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings and D&D and other geeky allusions liberally salted throughout the book – the quickest and surest way to my heart is to toss off a reference and let it float on by without explaining it into the ground: give me credit for being as clever and/or geeky as you are (or at least as skilful with a search engine).

Lesley stuck her head through the door, spotted us and came in. “Have you seen how much that man can eat?”

“He is a halfling,” I said, which just got me blank looks from the pair of them.

The only thing I didn’t love about this book, which brought it to a less-than-five-star rating (but probably more than four) was the plot. A young man is murdered in the London Underground, and the unusual murder weapon that Peter locates leads him and his cohort (because I wager he’d love to be said to have a cohort) off on a hunt – through London’s tunnels and sewers via the art world, and don’t think I’m not making that a metaphor in my head – for what may be a whole community of people (of one sort or another) who rarely see the light of day. It’s not a criticism that there were no pyrotechnics on the scale of the other two books; explosions and riots and so forth would be a bit difficult to realistically insert into every single book, and something a bit more low-key (though still plenty adventuresome) was called for, I think, in this third volume.

I just figured it out: my problem with the book – which is only a problem in the way a small vanilla bean Coolatta is a problem: a large would be better – is that it feels a little like the stereotypical middle book in a trilogy. Character development continues; more characters are introduced (another reviewer squeed quietly about the possibility that a sort of Peculiar Crimes Unit is forming around Peter and Nightingale, what with Lindsey (I love the progression of her character) and other developments herein – and my heart have a little squee of its own. Yes, please); plot lines are carried over from the previous book as investigation continues into the “Little Crocodiles”; and the book ends with a wonderfully mysterious and tantalizing tip-off for the latter.

From the description: “No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.” Huh? When does her born-again anti-magicness come into play? I remember nothing of that. That would have actually been an interesting wrinkle, but – actually, that’s another small drawback for me. Special Agent Kimberly Reynolds of the FBI (“Ooh!”) is sent to London to assist in the murder investigation I mentioned a few pages back there, because the victim was the son of a US ambassador. She is sharp and competent – and also, compared to the armed-with-a-baton British force, a bit gun-happy, and more than a bit out of her element, between the foreign country component and the supernatural component. But she remains largely undeveloped, almost an afterthought, remaining on the fringes for the most part – and then she goes home. Which could mean she’ll be back…

Because I exhibited the persistence and annoyingness of a horsefly, I was granted (heh) this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – many, many thanks.

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3 Responses to Whispers Under Ground – Ben Aaronovitch

  1. tmso says:

    I’m not going to read your review because this is on my list to read very soon. I want it fresh, but I love the first two, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one. I think you did too. Cool!

  2. stewartry says:

    I don’t think I was spoilery, but it’s smart to avoid reviews, just in case. Hope you love it too – it was fun.

  3. Pingback: Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith | Stewartry

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