Friday, February 11, 2011

Rivers of London / Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

I ordered my copy of this book in hardback from England for several reasons. One, the original title, Rivers of London, is a million times better than the generic U.S. title, Midnight Riot. Two, the original cover is also a million times better than the generic U.S. cover. Three, I didn't want to read a watered-down "Americanized" version of the book. I ordered my copy via Powell's Books, but I just went to find the link in case other people wanted to order it and it's no longer available. I'm glad I got mine when I did.

Peter Grant is a rookie cop who's about to find out what department he'll be transferred to once his two-year probationary period is up. He's dreading a career of paperwork in the Case Progression Unit. But when he takes a statement from a murder witness who happens to be see-through, Peter comes to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale--who turns out to be a wizard. Nightingale arranges for Peter to become his apprentice.

The set-up is fantastic, with a mostly excellent plot to follow. Something strange is going on in London, some force that's causing otherwise normal, law-abiding people to go crazy and attack others, after which their faces fall off. Literally. With the help of his friend Lesley May--assigned to homicide--and the sometimes off-kilter guidance of Nightingale, Peter tries to figure out what's going on in his city and put a stop to it.

The writing in this book is a real joy. It doesn't call attention to itself at all; Aaronovitch's prose is high-quality without being flashy, effortless to read and never awkward. The characters are well rounded and all of them are sympathetic, even if they're not all likable. I liked Peter, who's intelligent, curious, pleasant, and practical in a low-key way. He's also of mixed race, which gave him an extra depth since he has to deal with issues that white cops don't, although that's only one part of his personality and history.

The plot takes its time to unfold although the action never drags. I got the impression that Aaronovitch was enjoying himself as he explored the world he'd created. While there are dark and even horrific moments in the book, the overall tone is light, engaging, and frequently very funny. The big climax wasn't quite as exciting as I'd hoped, but it was certainly a lot of fun, as was the whole book.

Incidentally, there's a fourth reason why I bought the UK version of the book at great expense instead of the US version in cheap paperback. Take a look at the original US cover art and current US cover art:

I can't find any information out there about what happened, but the figure on the original cover art looks awfully white to me. I can't help but wonder if the figure was, ahem, blacked-out to stop allegations of whitewashing of the cover. Either way, it's a crappy cover.

Powell's link for Midnight Riot
Here's the Powell's link to order the hardback UK version of Rivers of London

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