Happy Christmas everybody! This will be the last review before we all eat our body weight in chocolate and experience a frenzied unwrapping of presents that will border on the obscene. Somewhere under all that tinsel the real meaning of Christmas is lurking. It’s hard to grab hold of, as it means different things to different people. Appreciation? Thankfulness? Love? A murderous ghost who decapitates his victims in the street? Um, no, I didn’t think so, but that does bring me to our latest novel, ‘Rivers of London’ by Ben Aaaronovitch.
‘Rivers of London’ is an urban fantasy novel. The protagonist, Peter Grant is a probationary constable in the Metropolitan police. After a man is beheaded in Covent Garden, he ends up interviewing a one hundred and twenty- year old ghost. He discovers that he has the ability to see the dead and do magic and is initiated into a kind of secret society, who work within the police force to keep London safe from the supernatural; They have to find the ghost killer before more people are murdered.
The who-done-it element to the plot drives it forward. We all love a bit of crime. In 2017 crime became the UK’s most popular adult fiction genre. A lot of us are drawn to dark crime stories, whether through a desire to safely experience the adrenaline rush of a gruesome crime, or for a sense of justice if the killer is caught. It is often fun to try to work out who the killer is before the main characters do and shout triumphantly at your book “Ha. I knew it was him/her!”
However, this novel is not an ordinary crime novel. In the first few pages Peter Grant’s witness declines going to the station for an interview “seeing as I’m dead.” There is a juxtaposition between the gritty crime on the very real streets of London with this sudden injection of fantasy. Fantasy offers escapism and takes the reader away from the dark streets to a realm of infinite possibilities. This departure from reality is welcome, but for me there is a more compelling reason why I love good crime and fantasy and that is that at their core they are stories about humanity.
It is the human struggle that interests me. Peter Grant responds to the dead man with laconic understatement, “’If you’re dead,’ I said before I could stop myself, ‘how come we’re talking?’” He seems to show a deliberate lack of emotion in situations that would call for extreme emotions. For me, this had the effect of distancing me from the events of the novel. I didn’t feel scared or upset or surprised, because he didn’t seem to.
I really liked lots about this novel. It is fast paced, witty, full of mythological references, magic, crime and detailed descriptions of London streets. However, it was missing that connection that makes a fantasy novel more than escapism. It is not the magic that makes Harry Potter great, for example, but the courage and determination of the characters; it is their humanity.
Have a lovely Christmas everyone and whatever Christmas means to you, lets try and show a little kindness to each other this year.