Rivers of London

This urban fantasy (320 pages) was published in January of 2011 by Gollancz. The book takes you to modern London. David read Rivers of London and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.


Rivers of London

Ben Aaronovitch

Equal parts playful and dangerous, this is a bookish version of, say, Shaun of the Dead mashed up with Hot Fuzz, an unputdownable blend of police procedural and urban fantasy set in the London of now.

Our hero is Peter Grant, an officer with the London Metropolitan Police. He’s new to the field and finds himself investigating a series of murders. They’re grisly and gruesome, but it’s all presented with a bit of cheek.

Peter wants nothing more than to be a detective. But, sadly, he’s mostly relegated to hanging out at crime scenes, making sure nobody crosses the police tape. Until the night a man gets his head knocked off.

Left alone to guard the scene, the body long gone, Peter is approached by a character who claims to have seen the whole thing. Peter mistakes him for a street performer, what with his small statue and old-fashioned suit with waistcoat and battered top hat. The would-be witness introduces himself as Nicholas Wallpenny.

And before long, Peter realizes that Mr. Wallpenny is a ghost. ‘I ain’t worried about anything any more, squire,’ said Nicholas. ‘On account of having been dead these last hundred and twenty years.’

Peter does the only reasonable thing: He takes the ghost’s statement.

And later, he meets Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. He’s known as The Wizard by the locals and speaks with the accent of ‘an English villain in a Hollywood movie.’

Turns out, the London Metropolitan Police are well aware of the supernatural residents of London — though they deny it to the public. Nightingale is the head of the department, and when he takes Peter under his wing, nothing is the same for the young officer.

Together, they encounter trolls and vampires and a family of spirits. There’s a subplot about the conflict between the water spirits who represent the River Thames and its tributaries. All set in a very vivid depiction of London neighborhoods, including Covent Garden.

Brisk and engaging, this story deftly blends appealing ideas about magic with London culture. A hefty dose of humor sands the rough edges off the suspense, and the supernatural spirits add a sheen of delight to the police work. This is a fun world to visit, and there’s a lot to explore; there are currently nine books in this enchanting series.

Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ - a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport - like BASE jumping or crocodile wrestling. — Ben Aaronovitch

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