Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Midnight Riot is the kind of book that people like me, absolute anglophile and devoted BBC lover, couldn’t help but like. The humor and the texture to the narrative in this book reads delightfully British, but in a fashion that suggests that England isn’t just Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. It’s also Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, Being Human, Law and Order: UK, and Luther. It’s upper crust and working class. It’s a mix of past and present. Even deeper, it’s the everyday lives of Britons, not all Northern European either.
It was so refreshing to have a hero who is mixed-race, but seen as black by some; and to others, ethnically uncertain. He couldn’t get on the tube without getting nervous looks from some people who had made up their mind what his place in their world was, without asking him about it. On any given day, due to how much sun he gets, some might think he’s African, or some might think he’s Arab. Peter is unselfconscious about his ethnicity, although very aware that not everyone is comfortable with it. His mother is Sierra Leonan, and her culture infuses him, from her attitude towards hard work, to her frugality, and her penchant for making food so spicy that he has to drink a liter of water to douse its fire. His father is a white former musician with a thirty year heroin habit, and that colors the narrative just as much, for we are not in a small degree who our parents make us. That is either due to rebelling against our parents or through a childhood of being shaped by their rearing. As a reader of black heritage, I have to say that it’s good to see stories that feature characters of black ethnicity. There are a lot of our stories to tell, and they don’t seem to see the light of day, and not in the diversity that reflects the black African disapora. I hope that more leads in urban fantasy novels in the future are of color, because it adds something to a read to see someone who is like you, at least in some small way.
I enjoyed Peter’s character. He’s an insightful narrator, and full of wit. I liked seeing London through his perceptive gaze.
The police procedural aspects were great. Better than watching an episode of a BBC cop show, because Peter explains the ins and out of the Metropolitan Police to a degree I have never caught onto in my varied viewing pleasures. Peter’s acceptance of the workings of enormous wheels of bureaucracy turning in the Met makes what might have been boring, very fascinating, especially with his deadpan humor delivery (classic British wit). As I read this novel, I felt as though I had learned a lot more about the police in the UK, which is similar but different to the US.
The paranormal aspects were good and rather unique. I like how magic is presented here. The way it leaves an essence (called a vestigium that has a taste, feel, and smell) that Peter is able to pick up. When he’s recruited as an assistant and apprentice wizard to Thomas Nightingale, for a part of the Met that deals with the odd and magical crimes, he finds the niche he’d been searching for, with this inquisitive mind, and his insight into science. He doesn’t take things at face value, but he’s open-minded enough to accept that London has denizens that are not human, such as vampires, trolls, and malevolent ghosts who draw energy from those they possess, leading to their gruesome and violent deaths. It was interesting to watch Peter and Nightingale use a mix of police investigative techniques and magic to solve the inexplicable attacks of violence that seemingly normal London citizens are perpetrating against each other. He also comes to realize that the rivers of London are alive, gods and goddesses, if you will. And Peter needs their help to keep the peace in London, but also to resolve the territorial disputes between The Old Man of the River and Mama Thames, who both believe that they have a right to rule the Thames, and their tributaries.
Ben Aaronovitch has already secured his place in pop culture as the writer of Doctor Who novels. It’s great to see him put the fruits of his imagination to the page with this first in the Peter Grant series. After falling for Peter Grant, and his unforgettable narrative of London, he is going on my must read list.
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