Book Review: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning for Harry Dresden in light of the new direction the Dresden Files series has taken in the last few books, someone else has recently dethroned him as my favorite leading man in urban fantasy fiction. Peter Grant is my master now!
I’m really enjoying this series. I probably didn’t like this book as much as the two preceding it, but then again, Rivers of London (review here) was excellent and the sequel Moon Over Soho (review here) was even better, so I knew that was going to be hard to top.
The story begins with a strange murder in the London Underground, and as usual, strange murders always lead to a call to The Folly, home of the Metropolitan Police’s two-man paranormal investigative unit. And thus Peter is dragged into a messy case involving a dead American exchange student who is also the son of a rich and powerful U.S. Senator. Added to that is The Folly’s ongoing manhunt for “The Faceless Man”, the rogue wizard who wreaked havoc and almost got Peter killed in the last book.
Actually, I’d thought this book would take up that thread directly, following through on the mystery behind who The Faceless Man is and ending that story arc, but apparently not. It seems the author has plans instead to expand that particular plot line over the course of future books, an indication that the scope of this series will be getting bigger and bigger. I’m not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, I’m glad there are ambitious plans for these novels, but on the other, a part of me still prefers the one-contained-mystery-per-book-at-a-time kind of format.
Already, this book feels like there’s a lot more happening in it than the others. With the exception of a couple scenes, the story didn’t feel as suspenseful because the mystery was “diluted” amidst all that was going on. Maybe that’s also why its chapters were organized into what happened by days of the week this time, to help keep track of all the events over time. There seems to be a lot more exposition as well, and sadly — at least it feels this way to me — less history about London and less of Peter experimenting with magic using science, which were the two things I’d loved best about the first two books. Actually, there’s just not as much magic, period.
Despite that, there were some things I really liked about this book, not the least of all Lesley’s bigger role in this series. I wasn’t happy at all about what happened to her in the first book, and good to know she wasn’t just some shallow, throwaway plot device never to have a more important purpose again. There are also a few scenes which I felt were done extremely well, especially a particular one near the end in the eerie confines of the underground tunnels. Very imaginative and atmospheric.
Anyway, I’m glad that I’m all caught up now, but unfortunately that also means it’s going to be a long and difficult wait for the end of July, which is when the next book comes out.