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by Ben Aaronovitch
Gollancz, October 2012
400 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0575097663

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This book is a prime example of not being too hasty in rejecting something that doesn't immediately grab me. I picked up WHISPERS UNDERGROUND because two things about it appealed to me: the setting, as I'm always interested in holes in the ground, whether they're natural or man-made, and the genre, because I have a long-standing affinity with urban fantasy. But despite this, I just couldn't get into the early chapters, even though it began with a time-honoured set-up, involving a ghost in an abandoned underground tunnel. In hindsight, I think this was a case where I subconsciously felt that there were things about the characters that I didn't understand, particularly Grant's side-kick, the mask-wearing police constable Lesley May, and that frustrated me.

After a break of a couple of months, I picked the book up again, and this time pushed past the introduction, which I still found somewhat frustrating, and unless I missed it, the back-story behind Lesley's facial disfigurement never did become clear, although I presume this explanation lies in one of the two previous novels in this series. Ironically, for an urban fantasy setting, WHISPERS UNDERGROUND really hits its stride when the real police work starts.

Grant is called to take a look at a body that had been found at Baker Street Underground Station. The investigating offer, DI Miriam Stephanopoulos, had called in him because something felt 'off' about the scene, and when that happens, its customary to call on the branch of the Metropolitan Police who deal with more the more unusual aspects of policing. Grant agrees with his superior officer's diagnosis, but can't immediately put his finger on the problem. That doesn't go down well with the bluff, no-nonsense DCI Seawoll, who doesn't approve of what he bluntly refers to as 'weird bollocks'. On closer investigation, it becomes clear that the source of everyone's unease is the murder weapon. After all, it's not exactly normal to find someone stabbed in the back with a piece of broken plate, and it gets even less normal when the offending item of pottery is giving off vestigial traces of magic. And so begins Grant's involvement in tracking down the murderer of an American art student.

With my false start very quickly behind me, I settled down to thoroughly enjoy this engaging and entertaining look at a wholly believable look at London through the eyes of a man who clearly knows and loves it equally deeply. It was easy to accept the underlying thread of magic and Aaronovitch weaves it seamlessly through the threads of a police procedural fusing crime and urban fantasy together without stretching credibility too far, even when introducing river goddesses and their canine enforcers.

Aaronovitch also provides a sideways look at London liberally peppered with the sort of details that wouldn't be out of place in a guidebook but always presented within the context of the story. Very occasionally he crosses the thin line between explanation and info dump, and one or two action scenes were slowed down as a result, but that's a minor niggle, as is the fact that his knowledge of caving is clearly not on a par with his knowledge of the London underground. Peter Grant is a good narrator, and once he becomes established in that role, the feeling of having come late to this particular party rapidly recedes and the magic works its spell very quickly. I now need to catch up with the two previous books in the series.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, December 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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