Novella Review: The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 7.5 of Rivers of London
Publisher: Subterranean Press (May 2, 2019)
Length: 216 pages
With Lies Sleeping ending with the final showdown between Peter Grant and his archnemesis the Faceless Man, bringing a seven-book story arc to a close, fans are wondering where the Rivers of London series will be going from here. Rumor is that Peter will be back, but in the meantime, we get to whet our appetites with a spinoff novella called The October Man.
Providing readers with some much-needed breathing space following the intensity of all that Faceless Man action, this tale features a classic down-to-earth mystery taking place in the German city of Trier and introduces a new protagonist. Tobias Winter is an investigator for the Abteilung KDA, Germany’s own version of a supernatural crime fighting force similar to the Folly, and he is also one of the country’s few officially sanctioned magical practitioners. He arrives to the Mosel wine region after a suspicious death is reported in the area, teaming up with local police officer Vanessa Sommer to figure out what happened to the victim whose body was found covered in a grey fungus known as noble rot—an important infestation used in the process of making particularly fine and concentrated sweet wine.
Magic may have killed the poor man, but it is good old-fashioned detective work leads our characters to a nearby vineyard owned by a woman named Jacky Stracker, whose family has had a long and interesting history of interacting with the surrounding genius loci. Their investigation also uncovers a connection between the victim and a peculiar drinking club whose members are a group of middle-aged friends holding weekly get-togethers to enjoy good wine and experience the culture and arts of Trier. With a history that stretches back to the time of Ancient Rome, Germany’s oldest city offers no shortage of suspects, both mundane and magical, and it is up to Winter and Sommer to crack the case before the killer can strike again.
The October Man is a very well-constructed detective story, simple enough to be told in the span of a novella (granted, at more than two hundred pages, this one’s on the longer side) while still containing plenty of complexity to hold the reader’s attention. In addition, its pacing allows for plenty of fast-paced action and police work, but moments of downtime also provide opportunities to get to know our characters better. Despite being in a new setting and following a new protagonist, I was delighted to feel all the familiar attributes and the fine balance of Ben Aaronovitch’s writing style.
And of course, the best part about this story was being able to see magic in another part of the world. Expanding the Rivers of London universe, Aaronovitch shows how other places have their own protective spirits and genius loci. He also explores the way magical crimes are investigated and handled in Germany, and it was interesting to contrast attitudes and procedures between Abteilung KDA and the Folly due to political and cultural differences. Trier itself is a fascinating setting, boasting rich architectural history and a lively social and art scene, all of which the author highlights with the same kind of passion and attention to detail he gives to the Peter Grant novels. I also loved how the story revolved around the region’s wine industry and incorporated the history and process of wine making into many threads of the plot.
Perhaps my only criticism is Tobias Winter’s voice, which does not distinguish itself enough from Peter Grant’s. They sound so similar that I found myself frequently forgetting that we were supposed to be following a completely different protagonist, and only the occasional German brought me back. Although Tobias comes across as slightly more serious than Peter, to me it just seems there should be a greater distinction between their two personalities and narrative patterns, given their disparate backgrounds. That said, this can also be viewed as a positive, because if you enjoy the tone and style of the main series, then you should feel right at home with this one too.
All in all, Ben Aaronovitch has delivered another fun and captivating Rivers of London mystery, The October Man being a novella and featuring a different setting and characters notwithstanding. I loved getting to meet Tobias and Vanessa, and it would thrill me greatly to see this corner of the series expanded with more stories in the future.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Whispers Underground (Book 3)
Review of Broken Homes (Book 4)
Review of Foxglove Summer (Book 5)
Review of The Furthest Station (Book 5.7)
Review of The Hanging Tree (Book 6)
Review of Lies Sleeping (Book 7)