Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Underground is the third of the Folly series by Ben Aaronovitch, an urban fantasy series chronicling the adventures (Midnight Riot and Moon Over Soho) of bi racial London police constable and apprentice magician; Peter Grant.

This time around the body belonging to the son of a wealthy US politician turns up dead in the London Underground, and once Peter discovers a whiff of vestigial (trace of magic) on it, it’s up to him, his partner Lesley May, and their guv’nor Nightingale to find out whodunit and bring the culprit to justice. They’re aided and abetted, occasionally hindered, by an eager, shoot first FBI agent; Reynolds, the foul mouthed Chief Inspector Seawoll, newly promoted DCI Miriam Stephanopoulos, and the urban explorer and member of the British Transit Police Jaget Kumar. There are also cameos from some of London’s river goddesses (I’m sure Lady Tyburn is going to become very important in the future, if she isn’t already), Dr Walid, and the cheeky pre teen Abigail. Of course Nightingale’s loyal servant Molly (still not sure what she is) and Peter’s dog Toby also reappear.

I look forward to Folly books every bit as much, maybe more, as I do to a new Harry Dresden or Toby Daye, now. If you have any idea how much I adore Toby Daye, then you’ll understand how big a statement that is. The Harry Dresden’s do share a few things in common with the Folly books. Both are narrated by magically adept (although Harry’s a fully fledged wizard, and Peter’s in the equivalent of wizard pre school), somewhat sarcastic antagonists. They’re both set in large metropolises and they both put their antagonist in harm’s way for a good chunk of the time. Both Harry and Peter regularly pepper their narration with pop culture references (Peter’s are naturally more British, and I’m not sure if all of them are understood as well by US audiences as they are by UK and Australian ones, although some of the specifically UK ones go over my head, too). Something Harry Dresden’s creator Jim Butcher has done very successfully over the course of the 13 published Harry Dresden adventures is build up a large cast of characters that enable him to lose one for a book or two and not have it matter a lot to his audience. Ben Aaronovitch has also begun to do this. There wasn’t a lot of Dr Walid in Whispers Underground, and I didn’t miss him all that much, come to think of it Nightingale wasn’t as prominent in Whispers Underground as he was in Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the US) and Moon Over Soho, but there were other characters both old and new who took up the slack. I appreciated more Lesley, and I will never tire of reading about Molly, she doesn’t even have to do anything, but I giggle every time she appears.

To me now, the plot isn’t even that important. I could read Peter’s descriptions of police procedurals (he writes about it so comfortably and knowledgeably that I wonder if Ben Aaronovitch ever actually spent some time in uniform) and his explanations of Britain’s magical history, complete with his own snarky observations, all day.

Then there’s the setting. The author clearly loves London. He writes about it in a way that marries the modern day city with it’s long and colourful past and puts you right there. It becomes more than just a setting.

As with the previous two books Whispers Underground is self contained, you could jump in right here and read without looking at it’s predecessors, although you’ll enjoy it even more if you do read the other two, and come away entirely satisfied. Now having said that, Whispers Underground does reference the earlier works, and some of it is concerned with the investigation of a villain from those books, it also very neatly lays the ground work for the fourth book, currently called Broken Homes and due for release in 2013.

Whispers Underground is wonderful fun and highly entertaining, any book that so amusingly references one of the all time great James Bond quotes gets an A in my book, too!  


  1. sounds excellent! I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, so YAY for the 3rd!

    it was funny, I read Midnight Riot before I ever read a Harry Dresden book. . . and Midnight Riot was so good that the Dresden book was just kinda eh in comparison.

  2. I was a confirmed Dresden fan before I read any Aaronovitch. My wife was interested in him as a writer from his Dr Who days and convinced me to read the Folly books. It also got her to give Dresden a try. If you only read Storm Front you probably need to give Harry another go, it's not as polished as the others.

  3. Even though I've now read all the available Dresden books, and do very much enjoy them, I still maintain that there's a MASSIVE plot hole in the first book that he papered over in later volumes.

    And Aaronovich's Dr Who writing is quite different to these books. I do think you should have a go at one of his books to see the difference. I've got them around somewhere...