Rivers of London (retitled Midnight Riot in the US) is the first of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books, a Pratchettian gambol through a London where magic is real and genus locii more lively than you might think. If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, you might recognize Aaronovitch’s name as the writer of Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, both stand-out episodes for the seventh Doctor.
Rivers of London opens with PC Peter Grant on the beat with his fellow PC, Lesley May, and a murder. Grant and May are both nearing the end of their probationary periods as constables with the London Metropolitan police force, awaiting their permanent assignments to units within the Met. Lesley is confident of ending up somewhere she wants to be; Peter, particularly after he finds himself interviewing a ghost at the scene of the murder, less so. After his supernatural encounter, Peter is seconded to DCI Thomas Nightingale, the sole remaining practitioner of magic with the Met and sole resident of the Folly, the home of magic in London.
After that, things get odd.
The story is told by Peter who is quick, clever, and canny but by no means omnipotent or omniscient; the fallibility of his voice is refreshing, bringing the reader into closer sympathy with him. The murder mystery quickly turns dark as the deaths mount up; Aaronovitch has put thought into his system of magic and it is not without severe consequences for misuse or abuse. Alongside Peter, Lesley, and Nightingale, Aaronovitch has created a vivid and compelling cast of secondary characters, including the eponymous rivers, several ghosts, a lively terrier, and Nightingale’s housekeeper who is probably not as human as she appears to be.
Aaronovitch comes as close as any comic fantasy writer I know of to creating a world as involving, as frightening, and as funny as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. And if you enjoy the first, there are currently five more titles in the series to immerse yourself in during the next summer heatwave.