Book Review: Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch, 2011)


A mischievous blend of urban crime and fantasy.

‘I’m just going to have a chat with this troll,’ said Nightingale.

‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I think we’re supposed to call them rough sleepers.’

‘Not this one we don’t,’ said Nightingale. ‘He’s a troll.’

Rivers of London is the first novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s bestselling series about rookie Met copper Peter Grant. Grant solves crimes in a recognisable, modern London alongside his guv’nor Inspector Nightingale – but this is by no means a run-of-the-mill police procedural. As we discover right at the start, this is a London with a secret world of ghosts, vampires, sorcerers, gods, and vengeful demons hidden just below the surface.

The book begins with the discovery of a headless corpse in Covent Garden. As Grant guards the crime scene overnight, he encounters a ghost who claims to have seen the whole thing, which blows young Pete’s mind somewhat. He then meets the ageless and vaguely aristocratic Inspector Nightingale, who is revealed to be the only wizard in the Metropolitan Police, and who subsequently takes Grant on as his apprentice.

This excellent premise isn’t lingered over and explained in depth; it’s simply presented to us as being the case, and then we move on with the fast-paced and multi-stranded plot. The novel never wears its fantasy elements too heavily – good for luring in all those fantasy-phobes.

The book has a great wry sense of humour to it which really gives it a spark, and Grant is an appealing protagonist, whose mixed-race background helps to make him a believable hero of diverse modern London. We meet lots of other vivid characters along the way. I particularly liked Nightingale’s mysterious fanged housemaid Molly, and river goddess Beverly Brook, a beautiful and feisty South Londoner.

The idea of a hidden magical reality being unveiled to a previously oblivious young acolyte is reminiscent of JK Rowling, but the quote on the cover comparing Rivers of London to Harry Potter is misleading. This is much grittier, with some pretty dark and gory bits, and it’s also steeped in contemporary everyday life, making it more realistic and less fantastical than Hogwarts.

Rivers of London has a wonderful sense of place. Ben Aaronovitch plainly knows the city incredibly well, and his descriptions, with their smatterings of local history, are authentic and affectionate. For someone who lives in London as I do, this is an added joy.

Aaronovitch has so far written another 4 books in the Grant series – fab news because I think I’ve got a new addiction. Highly recommended.


Gollancz | 2011 | 392p | Paperback | Buy here


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