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Midnight Riot (Peter Grant) Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 2011
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“Fresh, original and a wonderful read. I loved it.”—Charlaine Harris
“Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz. It is a hilarious, keenly imagined caper.”—Diana Gabaldon
“Filled with detail and imagination . . . Aaronovitch is a name to watch.”—Peter F. Hamilton
“The perfect blend of CSI and Harry Potter.” --io9.com
“Aaronovitch has created a fun and funny character in Grant, who displays wit more than snark (a welcome attitude) and shows he can think on his feet. . . . It's a great start to what will hopefully be a long series of adventures.”--SFrevu.com
About the Author
Ben Aaronovitch was born in London in 1964 and had the kind of dull routine childhood that drives a man to drink or to science fiction. He is a screenwriter, with early notable success on BBC television’s legendary Doctor Who, for which he wrote some episodes now widely regarded as classics, and which even he is quite fond of. He has also penned several groundbreaking TV tie-in novels. After a decade of such work, he decided it was time to show the world what he could really do and embarked on his first serious original novel. The result is Midnight Riot, the debut adventure of Peter Grant.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book (and presumably, the forthcoming series) features Peter Grant, a somewhat mediocre police officer who suddenly discovers that he's, well, magical. Or at least, suddenly aware of the magical. Young Grant was on the fast track to a bureaucratic desk job, but now his life is much, much more interesting. Grant is poached for duty by Chief Inspector Nightingale, the Met's divisional head (and the entire division) for Creepy Magical Stuff.
It all happens just in time. The Rivers of London, at least, their magical embodiments, are having a turf war - it is in the pushing and shoving phase, but still, if it goes wrong, the city will be in bad shape. Grant is also juggling a second supernatural case - a nasty serial-killer of a poltergeist is beating people to death and making their faces fall off.
The Occult Detective has transformed into a recognisable genre stereotype. The 'O.D.' generally has a supernatural knack but, more commonly, solves problems through fast talking, "people skills" and general cunning. He's a bit of an outsider, something exacerbated by the fact that he Knows stuff that The Rest of Us don't. He's the tarnished knight type - cynical due to the problems in his own past. And 98% percent of the time? He wears a long coat.
Peter Grant (and CDI Nightingale) are the most recent branches of the motley family tree that includes Felix Castor, Harry Dresden, Johns Taylor, Constantine and Silence, and even, arguably, Doctor Who. All slightly-detached, urbane fellows with an outsider complex, floor-length coats and a knack of spotting solutions from a Lovecraftian angle. If Peter Grant bucks the trend, it is only because he still wears his patrolman's uniform.
If anything, Grant is a little too much of an outsider. He blithely strolls through the book with a clinical detachment that borders on the unflappable - even when he's caught on fire or, you know, someone's face falls off. Part of it is Mr. Aaronovitch's humorously objective writing style - but there are still points where I wanted to check the lead for a pulse. Like Constantine or Castor, Grant needs the occasional smack to remind him that he's still part of the human race - but unlike those two, it isn't rooted in cynicism, more an airy casual acceptance of events that is, at times, even more alien.
Where Mr. Aaronovitch separates his work from the trench-coated crowd is with his depiction of London. I'm a PROUD LONDONER (e.g. I moved here ten years ago, still cheer for foreign sports teams and will inevitably move to the suburbs as soon as I save up the money) and was wildly pleased to see proper descriptions of MY city.
Physically, emotionally and historically, Mr. Aaronovitch captures the unglamorous essence of urban London life. From stumbling over drunks to sweating on the tube, the informative plaques on every paving stone and the insane difficulty of Central London driving... this is the city in all of its banal glory. John Constantine and Felix Castor wander through Londons soaked through with mysticism - Peter Grant patrols streets with lined with CCTV and German tourists. Grant's detachment helps convey his (and, clearly, Mr. Aaronovitch's) love/hate relationship with the city as well. It is insane, clunky and messy, but who could possibly imagine living anywhere else?
Peter Grant is a late, and welcome, addition to a long line of irritable, sartorially-questionable saviours. If the he doesn't seem to be taking things too seriously... and the entire narrative style is a bit tongue in cheek... and the setting is a bit grittier than expected... that all sums up to an entertaining atmosphere that keeps the pages turning. There may be not a lot of thriller-style tension, but there is a lot of action, all excellently orchestrated in the streets and streams of London.
I bought this book because the publishers made a questionable decision about the cover. There has been some awareness on the parts of the internet that I frequent that publishers targeting American audiences "whitewash" their covers. The most famous example that I can think of was Justine Larbalestier's Liar, which is about a biracial protaganist. The original proposed cover showed a white girl. The publisher was convinced to change the cover, but it took some doing. There are pictures of the original and modified covers of the Aaronovitch books at Neth Space. In researching the whitewashing, I thought the book sounded interesting, and bought the first one. 26 hours and some lost sleep later, I bought the second one. One of the blurbs said it was like "Harry Potter meets CSI". I thought it was more like "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality meet Sherlock".
I liked Midnight Riot for many of the same reasons I liked Laura Bickle's Embers: the sense of place and space is palpable. Bickle's protaganist, Anya, lives in the current Detroit, a once-great city suffering through very hard times. Her details about empty blocks, shuttered buildings, and potholed roads give a good grounding to the otherworldliness of the action. Similarly, Aaronovitch's London is not an idealized London, or a sketchily detailed Major City. If this book were a TV show, it would be hard to film in Vancouver, because it is so very much about place, and neighborhood, and history. This is the London I catch glimpses of from the BBC, full of kebab stands and chavs and trainers and sewers and public transit. I think this would be a difficult book to read if you did not have that ability, beloved of scifi and fantasy readers, to just accept that you don't know all the words and probably you'll get them from context.
Peter Grant knows the city as a beat cop. He identifies everywhere he goes on a sliding scale of how many drunks he has rousted and fights he has broken up. Places can be historic, or architectural, but he is always evaluating them first in terms of public safety. Even when he is having a mind-blowing tryst with a new lover, he notes the fire escapes and weak points of the flat. He walks into rooms and scans them for threats, he is always aware of his surroundings with the police part of his brain.
He is also always aware of his surroundings in a racial way. It's not like he's a seething ball of biracial resentment, he just notices that he moves through a racial society. When he has had a rough day and is taking the Tube home, he watches people try to evaluate whether he seems more or less threatening than the homeless man. When he agrees to apprentice to a magical trainer, he refuses to address him as "Master", because while it might be traditional, he can't help hearing it as "Massa", and he will not do it. It reminded me, in a way, of walking around as a woman, and the thousand calculations that I make and almost don't notice I'm making them, thinking about keeping an eye on strangers who get into my personal space, and who to sit next to on the train, and how vulnerable I look when I'm walking, and where I could head for if I needed help. I am by no means a woman nervous of the big city, nor do I think I'm afraid, and I may not even be alert, but I am aware. Midnight Riot made me think about how that awareness might look on a different axis.
The language delighted me. There were little poem fragments scattered all through it, not as actual quotations, but as the sort of side reference-in joke that pop culture ends up being transmitted as. For example, there is a flip reference to "some corner which forever", in reference to the Rupert Brooke poem, The Soldier. Also, his ghost/magic sensitive dog is of the little yappy variety, and he identifies magic intensity he encounters by the "milliyap", as measured by how much the dog is likely to react to it. It's not obtrusive, not Pratchett-like levels of self-aware flipness, just the kind of language play and use that my friends and I sometimes indulge in.
I thought the plot was not astonishing. This is not a book you read for the tight, mechanical, magical interlocking plot points. It loafs along with the easy inevitability of Agatha Christie mystery. A bad person does something wrong, and our hero, by application of his unique personal skills, solves it in a way that no one else could have. Grant's unique skills include magic, a passion for the scientific method, and a millenial's facility with technology. Oh, and a hummingbird-like distractability. He is no respecter of tradition, which makes his mentor more than a little irritated, but his wildcat style works for him.
The plot is not the story's heart, though. The actual passion of the story is split between the setting, both real and mystical, of London, and the character development of a nice-enough guy who is trying to figure out how to be the best copper he can be. The setting is rich and surprising and charming. The guy is not at all rich, but somewhat surprising and quite charming. And the story has that sort of roll and rhythm that makes you keep telling yourself "just one more chapter".
Read if: you like police procedurals, the Lord Darcy books, urban fantasy about actual places, and drawing maps in your head.
Skip if: you don't like first-person narrators, or mystery stories. You would rather not read about gritty London as seen through the eyes of a police constable old enough to be cynical.
However, over time the story started progressing too quickly, often skipping over lots of detail that would have made it more coherent. It felt like the author knew what was going on but forgot to let the readers in on the whole story. One day, Peter Grant is a middling probationary police constable, then he learns he is a wizard. He reads a few books, kills some nasty creatures, learns a couple of spells, and poof, he is put in charge of planning a major police operation. All in a span of a few months. He is a very likeable character, but he was developed way too quickly to feel believable.
I will try the preview of the next book in the series and read reviews of it, but it will take a lot for me to actually pay for the whole thing.
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