Peter Grant is just about to finish his time as a probationary police constable and is awaiting his first permanent assignment to a branch of the service that he hopes will be more exciting than the paper pushing job he is expecting. Well, fate smiles on him. He finds himself involved in a murder investigation and, as a result of an interview with a ghost, assigned as apprentice to Chief Inspector Nightingale, the Last Wizard in England.
And there you have it, I've mentioned the 'W' word. I think it's very unfortunate that the quote on the cover invokes the world of Harry Potter, because in fact Rivers of London is much more akin to Shaun of the Dead meets Hot Fuzz and like those two films, it is definitely not for children. You wouldn't want your ten year old reading some of the language that is used and no school child should be introduced to certain of the gods of London rivers that populate the world that Peter finds himself investigating. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a book that is in any real way offensive, it is just that it is a book that might reach the wrong audience if it isn't carefully marketed. By all means give it to your sixteen year old who is looking for a book that will amuse and speak to the inevitable cynicism of most teenagers, but don't give it to your ten or eleven year old who is searching for a Harry Potter replacement.
Having become involved with an investigation that clearly concerns the forces of magic and enchantment, Peter finds himself searching the archives for information about that other source of enchantment, the theatre. The murder, or rather murders, because our criminal does not stop at one, take place in the heart of London itself, in the precincts surrounding Covent Garden, and it soon becomes clear that the motivation for what is happening can be traced back to events that occurred in that quarter of the city centuries earlier. If Peter is to have any hope of understanding what lies behind the killings he must consult those who know the metropolis far better than he can hope to, which is where the Rivers of London come in. You've probably heard the expression 'Old Father Thames'. Well, here you actually get to meet him, and Mother Thames as well. Although not at the same time as they haven't been on speaking terms for decades.
I have to say that at first I was rather sceptical about the whole thing, it felt gimmicky rather than truly original. Within a couple of chapters, however, I was hooked. Aaronovitch brings just the right amount of cynicism about both the police service and the current social climate to his writing and as a result the book is not only very funny but also, despite the magic, recognisably about the world in which we live. It is also, if you happen to know the parts of London about which he is writing, very well researched. I suspect non-Londoners might appreciate a map, but if you are a London theatre-goer then you're going to feel very much at home in this world. I am a convert and pleased to find that this is the first of a trilogy, the second and third parts of which are due for publication later this year.
If you like crime, if you like humour, then I think you should give this a go. If you have older teenagers to buy for and can't think of what they might enjoy, I would say this is a must. I know I've already earmarked two copies for birthday presents later in the year.