Ben Aaronovitch’s Foxglove Summer is the fifth book in the Rivers of London series and follows on from Broken Homes, Whispers Under Ground, Moon Over Soho and the original Rivers of London. As usual Aaronovitch mixes fantasy with contemporary life in a very Gaiman-eseque way.
For a change, in Foxglove Summer, policeman Peter Grant travels from the haunted streets of London to rural Herefordshire to help out with the investigation into the disappearance of two 11-year-old girls. In doing so he leaves behind the ‘main’ story of his search for the rogue magician known as the Faceless Man and the betrayal by former police partner Lesley. Lesley sends him a few text messages during the course of the book, but it’s clear that nothing significant to that story is really going to happen.
It actually makes a nice change for Grant to be somewhere else, but of course he inevitably interacts with one of the Rivers in the form of the sexy Beverly, his sometimes girlfriend and goddess of Beverly brook, a tributary of the River Thames. As usual the book is written like The Bill meets Harry Potter and it feels very much like an episode of a larger series perhaps inspired somewhat by Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens, but doesn’t rely so much on what has happened previously. The book is actually dedicated to Terry Pratchett and without spoiling it too much it’s obvious why by the end.
As usual, there’s some good humour, pop culture references, and interesting facts about police procedure, the location and the architecture. And therein lies my main issue with this series which remains unchanged after reading this instalment. I enjoyed it a great deal. In fact it’s perhaps my favourite so far, but Grant, rather than sounding like a young mixed-race copper embroiled in a secret world of magic, sounds more like a 50-something white writer with a penchant for science fiction, architecture and history.
Aaronovitch’s penchants and prejudices leak through the character of Grant to the point that while I am enjoying the ride because I understand all the little in-jokes and references to things like Doctor Who I don’t really believe Grant is real. There’s no suspension of disbelief for me like their would be if I was reading a Sherlock Holmes mystery for instance. However, if you can excuse that, then you will have fun with the imaginative story that blends police procedural crime fiction with the supernatural and provides some Time Team style insights into the various locations involved.
For those interested in spoilers – There’s some interesting insights into the back-story of Grant’s boss nicknamed the Nightingale from the point of view of a veteran of the WWII magical battle that wiped out most of the good guys. A tangle of extra-marital affairs to navigate in the Herefordshire village along with some nasty unicorns, faerie folk and possibly even some UFOs (although rumours are unsubstantiated on that count). By the end of the book Grant finds himself potentially trapped in the faerie world hoping that Nightingale might somehow help him. Help as it happens come from elsewhere in a finale featuring, of all things, a steam roller.