Ben Aaronovitch’s series of books following new police recruit Peter Grant seem to have attracted a good sized fan base already, but now that I’ve reached the end of book number four, I’m not sure why.
“Rivers of London is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz”, reads one review/tagline on the blurb. Yeah, if Harry Potter had a crippling form of OCD that meant he needed to describe everything he saw in minute detail to all and sundry.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to say that Ben Aaronovitch is not the greatest writer in the world. I mean, he’s not Lev Grossman or Ransom Riggs levels of bad, but he’s pretty bad. From the first book (Rivers of London) onwards, description dominates. Not just a quick bit on how police procedure works or an aspect of London that people may find interesting – we’re talking minutiae here. To beyond the point of tedium. The worst of CSI meets the worst walking tour of London ever devised.
With Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho (book 2) however, this was forgiveable because the books did produce some great ideas and rattled along at a fair old lick. I enjoyed seeing how magic worked within the context of the book, and it’s a believable system that fits in nicely with the modern setting. The characters were also fun, a good mix that - as far as a book featuring magic allows - were believable and suited their roles. Even the plots were intriguing, working well with the main theme and areas of London used for that specific book in the series.
But all that is gone now. The characters remain but have failed to develop since they were first introduced – now predictable and boring. This last book is filler for the next one – feeling like a TV script setting up for series 2. There is nothing I hate more than a glorified screenplay or a stop-gap/’to be continued’ book (Chaos Walking, I’m looking at you). Some people might not mind, but it gets right on my wick.
No longer do we have interesting and quirky elements of London folklore in a self contained tale, we now have an ongoing nemesis and the fight against him across each book. Of course the overarching plot has to develop, I can appreciate that, but it seems to be at the expense of one of the things that make the series interesting. And please, An arch enemy called 'The Faceless Man' and an incident with [character in book 1], and them having gone all strange. What might happen there then...?
When you lose the elements that you liked, you really start to notice the things that annoyed you originally. I tolerated book 3 (Whispers Underground) in the hope that this one might come good, but I think that's it for me now. Fascinating details of the intricacies of the HOLMES system are to be enjoyed by hardier souls than I.
Fans of the Dresden Files have had a few words to say about the similarity with Aaronovitch’s books for a while now, and while I haven’t read any Jim Butcher to be in a position to comment, I can tell you that Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series knock these out of the park when it comes to quirky tales set around London folklore. Each one a separate theme, great characters that develop, and an interwoven continuous story. No magic though, but plenty of occult and mystery.
And not so much bloody description.