Diana Gabaldon said, “Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” I think that’s sort of a red herring. I get it, Harry Potter is wildly successful and the quote targets a massive audience that will enjoy Ben Aaronovitch’s novel. However, if I was asked to write a more accurate blurb, it might read, “Midnight Riot is what would happen if Shadow from American Gods was an apprentice wizard with a wry sense of humor who wandered around London waxing poetic about it and solving crimes under supernatural circumstances.” Ok, so that probably wouldn’t sell as many books, but it’s a lot more descriptive.
Peter Grant is a rookie copper working the streets of London. As he nears the end of his probationary period and decisions are being made about his long term position in the force, a ghost gives him a lead in a case of mysterious murder. Next thing Peter knows he’s in up to his ears in the arcane, assigned to the department’s in-house wizard Thomas Nightingale.
Most of Midnight Riot is spent with Peter wandering around London trying to solve a murder and/or settling a long standing dispute between the river gods. When Peter isn’t doing either of those things, he’s learning magic or trying to get laid both of which are endlessly entertaining. And that’s sort of the heart of what Aaronovitch’s debut novel is all about – entertainment. It has wit, action, and charm in spades. Unfortunately the one thing it really lacked was a compelling plot which ultimately left me feeling a bit flat.
Don’t me wrong, the novel itself is rather compelling and exceptional readable. Aaronovitch takes his readers on a guided tour of the city and her rivers, building into it an occasional history lesson and cultural what’s what of modern London. All that’s very fun and more than a little cool, but much of it ended up feeling like a smoke screen covering the aforementioned average story.
U.K. Cover. Looks like
it belongs on a Martin
I won’t to get into details on why the plot underwhelmed me. There are twists and turns I don’t want to spoil. Suffice to say, the story itself would fit nicely into a TV procedural without too much grief. And I don’t mean a season finale level episode either, more like the last episode before sweeps start. The secondary plot, negotiating peace between the river gods while more interesting lacked any sense of impending disaster if Peter failed in his mission. In other words, I just didn’t care that much.
Now that I’ve panned the novel as ‘uninteresting’, I’m going to backtrack a bit because all the other things I mentioned like characters, setting, ambiance, and wit make Midnight Riot a pleasurable reading experience. Because of the importance and emphasis Aaronovitch places on the city of London I have to think that Londoners will get more from the novel just as readers from Tempe, Arizona get a little something extra from Kevin Hearne’s Hounded. Still, there’s a lot here to enjoy laying the base for, what I imagine will mirror Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, steady improvement with each installment.
I admit I’m not exactly Midnight Riot’s target audience. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan, nor am I particularly ensnared by the police procedural. Nevertheless I’m glad I was exposed to Peter Grant, Aaronovitch’s London, and his excellent first person voice, all of which caught my interest and held it for 300+ pages. I absolutely recommend it to fans of the subgenre, and fans of fantasy in general with the caveat that the plot won’t leave you out of breath.
Midnight Riot is available anywhere books are sold in Mass Market Paperback. Aaronovitch’s sequel Moon Over Soho came out earlier this year and has received strong reviews thus far. It’s available in both Hardcover and Trade Paper Back in the UK from Gollancz and in Mass Market Paperback in the U.S. from Del Ray.