Probationary constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he'll face is a paper cut. But Peter's prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter's ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.
Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
©2011 Ben Aaronvitch (P)2012 Tantor
Mystery reader (especially series) and Austen lover
For several years now, I have studiously avoided any and all of the current books involving vampires, ghosts, werewolves, spirits and similar creatures in mystery and other genres. I didn't read horror stories, period.
Then I read some member reviews of "Midnight Riot," and thought I'd give it a try, despite the dead, undead and non-human monsters. What a revelation! This book gives the reader a rollicking ride through modern day London in the course of a murder investigation. It is fast-paced, engrossing and hilarious. I laughed out loud repeatedly when listening. In addition, I learned a bit of history about various sites in and around London.
Constable Peter Grant, having just finished his probationary period with the Metropolitan Police, interviews a witness to murder, only to find out that his witness is the ghost of a man who died 120 years before. As a result of his being able to see and converse with the ghost, he is recruited by Inspector Thomas Nightingale to work in a unit (made up of only Nightingale and Peter) whose "beat" is anything non-human, undead or uncanny. Turns out Nightingale is a wizard, and Peter becomes his apprentice. Now, sweep all ideas of Harry Potter out of your mind -- this is not a Hogwarts type of story.
As Peter, Nightingale and Constable Lesley May, a friend of Peter's, work their way through the mystery. they encounter a great deal of violence, a number of River Spirits, ghosts, vampires, and general confusion. Peter Grant is a lovely character, who is smarter than he realizes, and who looks at London and its residents with a jaundiced eye and very ironic comment.
Other reviews give a much more detailed description of the book, and I refer you to those other descriptions. I want to talk about the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. He is perfect! He gives Peter's character just the right accent and attitude, that of a young mixed race man from a working class background who has a breezy attitude and many a smart remark to make. Then he makes Nightingale a well educated gentleman of at least a century earlier. Male and female voices, London accents, German, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and Japanese voices are all wonderful. KHS brings the book to life beautifully.
This book is great…it’s Disc World great, it’s PG Wodehouse great, it’s Tom Sharpe great. It’s as British as Chicken Vindaloo or Soccer Violence. As an ex-Brit, raised in London now in SoCal this book hit me like the smell of damp overcoats on the underground or fresh fish and chips. If you are a follower of BBC America or PBS and have already found and enjoyed "Doctor Who", "Luther" or "Top Gear" I invite you to shout “Yipee” and jump in the deep end. This is a funny, gripping and fiercely entertaining romp through modern day London where the ghosts are as real as science, led by our reluctant hero; a junior policemen with unexpected magical powers. If Harry Potter had joined the London cops after Hogwarts this is what might have happened.
If you are an American, not quite so well versed in the parlance of London and its police force then you may be a little confused by the pervasive used of London and Police vernacular....but read this book anyway. It's brilliantly narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith whose accent is 100% authentic London street…and Kudos to the producers for not attempting to “RP” it up. Its basic premise is at once completely silly and absolutely sublime. The characters are authentic and in many cases hilarious.
It’s not often that I find myself gushing …but I simply have to in this case. To find a new, funny, authentic and creative voice in the often ghastly genre of urban magic is refreshing and encouraging. This book is everything the dreadful Stackhouse or True Blood books aren't. It’s funny and credible, without taking itself too seriously. I tried this book as a special offer from Audible which promotes the first book of series presumably with the aim of hooking me in… and it worked. I invite you to follow and enjoy this exercise in Britt-erati at its best.
First, a disclaimer. When I watch British Mysteries on TV, I often need to turn on the closed captioning, to understand what is being said. Truth is, I speak American. This book is definitely in English.
The story is a fun combination of Police Procedural and Fantasy (I think that is the proper term). If you enjoy both, you need to read this book.
The reader does a fine job of delineating the various characters, primarily using various regional accents. He also does a good job of presenting women's voices without using falsetto.
This is the first of a series, which is tied, not just a series of individual books, so it's better to read them in order. I've read the first three and enjoyed each.
I like mysteries (particularly British ones, historical fiction and nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy.
Originally, I wrote this review for the Vine program on Amazon. So I didn't pay for the book. Then I ran down a copy of the CD audio book through a friend. I fell in like with the narrator. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith has a fantastic voice for this book-- actually he has a lovely voice for reading anything. I cannot imagine Peter Grant being read by any other narrator. He also does a great job with the other characters. I purchased this from audible because I have not actually paid for a copy of this book until now and because I wanted Audible to keep bringing good audio books like this to the US.
Ok, ignore any references to grown up Harry Potter. Yes, the hero does end up apprenticed to a wizard but that's where the resemblance ends. Peter Grant starts as a probationary constable in the London Metropolitan Police. His father is a drunken jazz musician while his mother cleans offices for a living. Peter wants to become a detective on the murder squad. However, Peter is not the ideal candidate for any of the high profile squads. He is though the ideal candidate for one very obscure squad with a total membership of 2, counting Peter.
Things I liked-- Aaronovitch writes about a multicultural London. Peter is mixed race and writes about his experiences with a serio-comic turn that I really like. He's smart, quick thinking and funny so reading from his viewpoint is a pleasant. Dark humor punctuates bouts of well described action.
The book actually comes across as a police procedural, even as Peter deals with issues like a dispute between Father Thames and Mother Thames-- which gives the book it's British title, Rivers of London. I like that title better any way..
The next one is available on Audible already. I hope other readers enjoy this book as much as I have.
I am skeptical of the entire werething-vampire-ghost-zombie-spiritofwhatever craze. After the past decade or so wizards have become ho-hum; too many insincere imitations going around. But I loved this book! Peter Grant is a great central character. He has some unusual talents, but is no superhero. He has plenty of failings and foibles and uncertainties. The supernatural certainly plays a huge part in this book, but it is treated with a combination of irreverence, comedy, and rationality that is refreshing. The history and mythology of London are integrated into the plot and give rise to some fascinating characters. The re-imagination of spirits general and particular is well-done and often quite funny. I will definitely listen to more books by this author. The narration was excellent and enhanced the story.
In some respects this book reminds me of the Bryant and May series; if you like Bryant and May, you might well enjoy this series too.
You'll find me chattering and chasing shiny things.
Don't get me wrong, I *love* the Harry Potter series - but this is a totally different animal. The only things they have in common are magic and infinitely listenable writing styles.
I don't know what I can add that others have not - I have never read/listened to a police procedural that was quite this detailed before - but I also haven't read many. I really enjoy the way Peter, the main character takes what he's learned from being a cop in general and transitions it to dealing with his wholly new experiences with the supernatural.
This is a very adult novel, it's got some horrific scenes, as well as use of language, and sexual situations. None of it is gratuitous, however, it all slides well into the story.
I read a couple of pans involving how british this book is - in that there are some words and phrases americans wouldn't necessarily get. The book was written for a british audience and I don't mind popping over to google to look up "punter" (cause it certainly isn't talking about football players) and other such words as well as place names I wouldn't know by hearing in the book.
As a narrator, for the most part Holdbrook-Smith does a bangup job. He does most of the accents so well, that when he flubbed one by not being able to maintain it, I still gave him a pass. The only thing that really gets on me are the occasional mouth noises that leave me wanting to say "swallow!". I enjoy that he acts the book as opposed to just reading it and I'm glad he does the whole series as it's been published in the US so far.
I really recommend this book to those who enjoy urban fantasy. Particularly fans of Harry Dresden. He has some fun takes on issues Dresden has encountered (such as magic farbing technology) and the main character's enjoyable wit, along with self expressed flaws put me in mind of that series. Though once again - different animals, but equally as enjoyable.
My taste differs from kid books to gory horror books.
DO NOT PASS GO, COLLECT 200 QUID
Yes, this is very British and I am sure I missed some of the funnies, due to not being British, but do not let that stop you. This was very easy to understand, was funny to very funny and I did not feel ABUSED, SPAT ON AND VOMITED ON.
CHIEF INSPECTORS DON'T RUN, THAT'S WHAT THEY HAVE CONSTABLES FOR.
The magic in this book is more analytic then those in most books. It does not come naturally to the novice. He might have to be born with the ability to learn, but he must practice hard to learn the skill. As the apprentice learns the magic, we the listener learn about this world of magic. This approach keeps the listener from getting lost. This is listed as a detective novel and rightly so. There is almost as much in the novel about police work in London as there is about Ghost Vampires, River Gods and magic.
A FACE THAT LOOKED LIKE IT HAD BEEN HIT WITH THE FLAT END OF THE SHOVEL.
What I liked most about the book was the main character. He is pretty much an average young black man living in London. He likes to read, but in class his attention is liable to wonder. He is an average man trying to make something of himself.
WE'RE THE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THE PEOPLE THAT OTHER PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE.
I only gave the book three stars. I did not feel the writing maintain the quality it started with. I did listen to the whole thing, but I was ready for it to end. I believe BA has a bright future, but he is not there yet. I do think the book is worth the credit and I am sure many will and do love the book.
KEEP BREATHING IT'S A HABIT YOU DON'T WANT TO BREAK.
The narrator is very good and I believe he made the book better. He does do a lot of heavy breathing, taking in deep inhalations before starting many sentences. I did not notice it till toward the end of the book, but then it did get a little distracting.
Down the rabbit hole into a ring a fire- the magic of words lifts me higher and higher.
The first time I listened to this book I was simply delighted with it all. The author is creative, entertaining, clever and knowledgeable about a wide diversity of history, cultures and technologies, AND that is all before you get to the wizards. The narrator stands firmly on his own skills. He demonstrates an expressive repertoire that includes men and women from across the British Isles and and parts of Africa, and I really can't imagine anybody else doing this book and its sequels any level of justice. Ben Aaronovitch may have created this world but Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is the genii locorum.
The second time I listened to this story (after listening to the next two volumes in the series) it became apparent to my essentially Midwestern American existence that this audio book is more than a London-based story read by a man with a fascinating and wide-ranging accent. Some books are just universal stories that adjust the words - "flat" instead of "apartment", "nick" instead of "steal", a cuppa, a rollup, the Tube. (I had to look up "skittles" because it was obvious we weren't discussing candy.) But this book goes much deeper.
This story is fundamentally English but not in the way I usually think of Agatha Christie or James Bond. It is based on the layout of the London Rivers and the timeline of the growth of London. It explores the layers of culture on several points of that line, and the people who inhabit those ephemeral intersections. In the modern time the of New Scotland Yard there is a traditional Traveler's camp, attending the Royal Opera House, a precariat Anglo-African homecoming, The answer to the mystery is related to the British Theater and I think that most Americans won't get it before we are led to the path in the middle of the narrative. I was helped in the who-dun-it category because I had recently listened to Christopher Fowler's "Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood" (also very British and interesting). So I knew as soon as they found the baby in the yard which direction this tragedy was headed. It was not a spoiler. The story was at the same time familiar and exotic, mesmerizing to listen to and happily surprising. It was so easy to co-mingle the archaic concepts of "thief takers" and the ritual formality of traditional education with jokes about a "secret branch of the Met", "The Ministry of Magic" and "cunning plans" because of the combined talents of the author and the narrator.
Two things I didn't like:
1) Leslie's voice was whiny. She is supposed to be the hardcore WPC and the interpretation of her voice was not suited to her role, however, due to circumstances in Leslie's life it changes in the upcoming books. The whine was perfect for Beverly!
2) The UK title for this book is "The Rivers of London" and there is a very nice cartoon on the front of the book depicting a map of a river (probably the Thames) rolling through London. It looks like a river of blood, but only when I thought about it a while. The US title is "Midnight Riot" and there is a picture/photo of a dark, brutish figure holding a gun and producing a werelight. The first time I saw the US cover, before I read the book, I thought the light was a flashlight (torch) and decided that the book with the gun-toting big scary guy shining a light in my eyes was too threatening and was going to be violent and not my type. I skipped it for several months but it kept coming up in my Audible recommendations so I finally read the description and reviews. I hate that Americans are stereotyped as gangsters, violent and coarse and that somebody thought that the book would sell better in the US with a gun on the cover. Metropolitan policemen, especially probationary constables, don't even carry guns unless they are in a special unit.The later books US books have the same unfortunate cover design although the titles do not change.
I recommend this book to:
-anybody who enjoys fantasy in a modern setting
-anybody who enjoys books with historical aspects
-anybody who enjoys police procedurals
-anybody who listens to an audio book for the operatic experience (that is what I call listening to the audio book just to hear the sounds, like listening to music)
I hope you enjoy this series as much as I have!
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
In spite of the references through Ben Aaronovitch's series to the greats of British fantasy - Harry Potter, Tolkien, Terry Pratchet, Dr Who, etc. - the Peter Grant books much more strongly favor an American series, The Dresden Files, albeit with a British flavor. I decided to listen to all three of currently available Peter Grant books (a fourth is due out later this year) before writing about them so I would know if I could recommend the whole series since that's nice to know before starting. No doubt in my mind, if you like Dresden, you'll like Peter Grant. Be aware though, in spite of some internet book reviews comparing this series to Harry Potter, it's not at all that type of fantasy series and it is definitely not for children (some sex/some graphic violence).
Midnight Riot has its own unique characters, settings, plots, and magic system so it doesn't come across as derivative, but it has some nice commonalities with Dresden. Harry Dresden was an accomplished wizard when we first met him; Peter Grant does not even know about Wizards when we first meet him, but both men are extremely likable, combine self assurance bordering on arrogance with redeeming self deprecating humor, attract great friends and allies, and equally attract perverse and interesting enemies. Each series also has a very likable police woman to serve as sidekick/cohort/potential romantic interest, each is set in a huge metropolitan area which sets much of the tone of the books, and each is built on short term mysteries solved within each book and overarching plot lines that span the books. Best of all, each series on audio has found a delightful voice to convey the character of the central protagonist perfectly. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith fits Peter Grant hand-in-glove as James Marsters fits Dresden. Like the Dresden Files, the Peter Grant books are are first person narratives so success on audio is very dependent on having that perfect voice and Holdbrook-Smith strikes the right blend of sassy and sweet/smart and awkward to make it easy for the listener to take to Peter right away.
This is not a series where the magical system will overwhelm the listener because we learn about it little by little as Peter is learning it, but in this first book, it seems a bit muddy - not all the dots quite connect. In spite of that, the book is action packed with lots of fun good guys and bad guys both and my interest never flagged. As with any GOOD series, Midnight Riot provides conclusive answers to many questions, leaves open the options to pursue answers for other questions, and ends with a bang. Just the sort of thing to make you go get book 2, Moon Over Soho, and I recommend that you do just that.
One note about the narrator, Kobna Holbrook-Smith - his voice is perfect for Peter Grant and he does pretty good accents for other characters as well. He has a decidedly pronounced London accent, speaks quickly, and there is a fair amount British slang in the book so my American ears had to struggle a bit in the beginning to keep up. I found that I quickly adjusted to the narration and within a couple of hours I had no trouble following and came to really enjoy this narrator.
Ben Aaronovitch has an excellent pedigree: he wrote two 7th-Doctor-era serials for Doctor Who, and has written DW novels which I will now have to seek out. And he seems to have been the first to send a Dalek up a staircase. Evil, evil man.
I'm becoming an audiobook voice groupie. Which is going to be a problem here, because the sequel to Rivers of London is not (legally) available in the US. Mia Michaels, judging on So You Think You Can Dance, coined a word I've been using ever since. The spelling is debatable, but it is, roughly, "gorgeois" – pronounced "gor-zhwah". That word, for me, is a very good descriptor of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's narration of Rivers of London. (Hey, he pronounced "chaise longue" correctly. If for nothing else I love him for that – and there's plenty more to adore.) He has a deep, dark, dusty voice, and reads aloud like a dream. His character voices are stupendous. London being the (insert something less clichéd than "melting pot" here) that it is, KHS has a variety of not only British regional but international dialects to deal with: male, female, other, Scots, Cockney, British Received, Nigerian, more – all are wonderful. It's lovely to hear him switch from what may be his own voice, here the voice of Peter Grant, to the dry light patrician tones of Nightingale – equally natural, equally fluent, and so different from the sound of Peter that it could truly be a different speaker. There is nothing between Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and the experiences he tells of, no evidence whatsoever that the words he speaks were ever such dead things as print on a page.
The writing doesn't hurt in that endeavor. Ben Aaronovitch's style is utterly natural and conversational, perfectly in keeping with the first-person voice of young Peter Grant, his main character. It's no young adult book – the "f-bomb" is dropped liberally, for one thing, and then there's the violence – but it is the story of the beginning of an apprenticeship, of the opening up of a strange, unsuspected world within the common mundane. Peter's world is, if not turned upside-down, tilted at a startling angle, and everything changes. And then changes again. Then gets a little stranger. I loved that he took every part of it, from the very beginning, back to his classmate and sort-of-partner Lesley to talk over, not worrying (much) about whether or not she would believe him. I think I'm in love with Peter Grant (and Chief Inspector Nightingale), but that could just be the influence of The Voice.
I laughed at this from Wikipedia (be careful of spoilers on the page):
- Police Constable Lesley May; an officer in the Metropolitan Police who, having completed her mandatory probationary period, is expected to go far.
- Police Constable Peter Grant; an officer in the Metropolitan Police who, having completed his mandatory probationary period, is expected to do paperwork.
The story does a fascinating job of limning the difference between the sort of person who becomes a "copper" and the rest of us. I think it was a commercial for some possibly short-lived network series that explained that most people run away from trouble, while first responders run toward it. Here this is underscored, especially in the first chapters: Grant and May, the brand shiny new PC's, are caught up in the tail end of a hideous incident, and wind up standing shaking, covered in blood not their own, faced with a dead family and a scene of horrendous violence – and they field the situation. And come back for more. Most people (I) tend to want to avoid this sort of thing, and having been unable to avoid it once would do absolutely anything to avoid experiencing anything like it again….
I love how this world, this alternate London, was built. There isn't so much a conspiracy of silence as in, say, Harry Potter, where the wizarding world goes out of its way to keep muggles safe ignorance. (I love that Harry Potter exists in Peter Grant's world. It will be great fun to keep that in mind going on with the series, to try to spin it to determine what if anything the Alternate Jo Rowling knew about real wizardry.) In this London, in this world, it's more a matter of the muggles not wanting to see what they can't cope with (or not having the ability to see it), and the wizarding world simply staying rather quiet and out of the way. I love the skepticism, giving way grudgingly to acceptance, of just about everyone; I love Peter's attitude toward the situation in general and his situation in very much particular.
I love how the British title – so much better than the American – is brought to life. The voice of Mother Thames is wise and remarkably feminine and beautifully accented, and the tale of how she became Mother Thames is a small gem of storytelling. And then we go to meet Papa Thames. It's the sort of storytelling I just want to hug to myself and not let go of. And – bonus – I learned a bit. Going on to listen to A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, I could be a bit smug as the author talked about executions at Tyburn.
I loved just about everything about this book. I loved the revelations about what was going on – something which could have been truly awful in different hands, but which was suspenseful and horrifying here. I loved not knowing whether I could trust Aaronovitch with characters' lives. I even loved Peter's ambivalence toward Toby – and that's not like me. I can't honestly think of anything I didn't like. I can't wait to get my hands on the second book (and the third, and so on) – but I wish, I deeply wish, that the audio book was available here. It just won't be quite as much fun without KH-S.
But I have faith that it will be fun.
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