Moon Over Soho: A Review

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Moon Over SohoMoon Over Soho once again sees Peter Grant plunged into the midst of cases involving the supernatural. Picking up right where the last book left off, Peter is working in London under the supervision of the enigmatic Nightingale. Both are in residence at the Folly, a supposedly clandestine department of the Metropolitan Police, which an alarming number of people seem to know about and accept without question. The speciality of this department is magic. Nightingale remains the only British Wizard, however, he now has an apprentice in Peter—the first to apprentice for fifty years, as Nightingale had thought magic was dying out.

The novel opens as Nightingale continues to recover from a gunshot wound sustained during the course of Rivers of London. I have to say I found it very refreshing that injuries have real consequences in this world, and the real threat of mortality, despite the presence of magic—both Nightingale and Peter’s partner, Lesley, were injured in the previous book, and both are having to recover from their injuries through normal medical means. Peter visits Lesley, who has been placed on indefinite medical leave, after she was possessed for three months by a ghost, ultimately leading to her face collapsing in on itself. Lesley is staying with her family just outside London—although the way Peter describes the journey you’d think she was all the way up North—while she undergoes several medical procedures in an attempt to rebuild her face. She is very interested his ongoing magical studies, and makes him show her a spell several times. Of the two of them, Lesley is the better police officer, having demonstrated on several occasions the fact that she’s much more familiar with procedure and generally has a better handle on things than Peter. She’s very frustrated by her situation, and is also wearing a mask to hide her face. Peter finds this, and the damage done to her, very uncomfortable, especially as he had previously had a huge crush on her, and doesn’t now know what to do about his feelings.

There are several things about this part of the novel that really, truly irritated me. First of all, despite the fact it was always obvious Peter’s feelings for Lesley were based on her physical appearance, even I found it astonishing how much he let that colour the way he treated her. Yes, he found her very attractive, but he acts as if now she’s lost her face, and her looks, he doesn’t see how he can pursue anything with her. I’ll talk about this more in the next book’s review, but for now, I just wanted to point out how shallow it is, and how annoying I find it. Another thing he does at this juncture is make it very clear that he only has time for Lesley when she’s useful. He gets in touch with her when he has work to do on the case which he doesn’t want to do himself, and knows she’d be better at, so he asks her to do it for him. She’s more than happy to do so, as she’s bored to tears, but there is a gap between his initial visit to her, and him sending her the work to do, in which he does not think about her or mention her at all for some time. Out of sight, out of mind, she only comes back into his head when he thinks of something useful she could do. Finally, while he is there she asks if there is a magical way to repair her face. This seems like a very sensible question, since magical possession was what caused it, yet Peter simply says ‘no’. He does later reconsider the question, but it is a lot later. It seems to me that it should have been his immediate thought when she was injured, and that he should have been spending at least some of his time at the Folly researching the possibility of a magical cure. He doesn’t though, and in fact gives the impression that he’d not even thought about the possibility until she asks.

Peter is called in on an investigation by Doctor Walid, the Folly’s on-call medical/magical specialist. He has no magical abilities himself, but he has conducted extensive studies of magic and its effects on the human body. Walid has just finished an autopsy on Cyrus Wilkinson, a jazz musician who suffered a sudden, inexplicable, but apparently natural death. Walid tells Peter that the death of Wilkinson is only the latest instance in the last year or two of jazz musicians in London suffering sudden, apparently natural, but somewhat unexpected deaths. Wilkinson’s death likewise appears to have been natural, but it is unusual for someone in good health to suddenly drop dead, so Peter has been called in. He detects ‘vestigia’, a kind of magical residue that is left behind when a spell is cast, or magic takes place. Vestigia takes many forms, and in this case it is the sound of a jazz song Peter knows well. It is a very specific version of the song however, and he can’t quite place it, so he goes to his father for help.

Peter’s father is a former jazz musician, known during his career as ‘Lord Grant’. Peter’s relationship with him is strained due to his father’s drug addiction and the various issues this has caused over the year. Between them they are able to identify the exact musician who played that version of the song, and find it was performed by Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson at the Café de Paris, in Soho, at the exact moment a bomb hit during the blitz in 1941. Interestingly this is partially true—Johnson was indeed killed, on March 8th, 1941, by a bomb hitting the Café de Paris while he performed, however witnesses were very clear that he was playing ‘Oh Johnny’ at the time, and no ‘Body and Soul’ as the book states. Aaronovith took a little artistic license and changed the song so that it fitted better with the plot and themes. Personally I have no issue with this, as ‘Body and Soul’ really does fit well.

 

 In a bid to find out more, Peter befriends the other musicians in Wilkinson’s band. They are impressed when they discover he’s the son of ‘Lord Grant’, and end up accompanying him on an evening out as he investigates the last venue the victim played at before he died. They actually turn out to be very nice and helpful, and Peter’s, erm… instrumental (sorry) in hooking them up with his Dad, who joins their band. It’s good for his father—who’s trying to get clean—and good for the band as it helps them land more gigs.

Together they go to the jazz club where one victim died, and Peter hears the same version of ‘Body and Soul’, also lingering as vestigia in the club, this time played on the trombone. After a quick check with a girl who works at the club, he finds the trombonist has just left. Peter follows him, but arrives as an ambulance is picking up his dead body; it would seem he simply collapsed and died.

Shortly after, Detective Sergeant Stephanopoulos calls Peter in on another case in Soho, involving a series of grisly murders. The perpetrator is described as a pale woman with dark hair, and her choice of murder weapon appears to be her teeth—a series of unusual bite marks are the reason Peter has been called in. Stephanopoulos is the head officer of the Murder Investigation Team, and has only recently found out about the Folly. I have to say I find her to be an annoying character. Slightly more is made of her in later books, but in this initial introduction she is described as the stereotypical butch lesbian, and treated very much as the ‘lesbian copper’. There are some character traits, such as race and sexual orientation, which need to be handled well. I find Aaronovitch’s method of dealing with both to be a little ham fisted, and totally contradictory. When it comes to race, we are told, specifically, exactly what race every character is. Peter himself is mixed race, and we know this from the very beginning of book one. It is brought up again and again, and on several occasions has actual relevance. The rest of the time, you can interpret the constant need to tell us each character’s race in one of two ways: either Aaronovitch is trying very hard not to be racist, and to acknowledge that London is a melting pot of cultures, filled with people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures, or it is simply the cop in Peter identifying characteristic of people he meets as if he were calling in a description of a perp. Police officers always list of specific physical details when calling something in, if they have a visual on a suspect: gender, height, build, approximate age, but the first thingevery single time is race. ‘IC1’ is not some random code for the type of crime, is mean ‘White, Northern European’. IC2 is ‘South European’, IC3 is essentially ‘Black’, while 4 and 5 are basically ‘Asian’ and ‘Chinese or Japanese’, respectively. Now, if I interpret these persistent racial descriptions in the former light I find them very annoying. Unless it informs the story, I have no more need to know the colour of everyone’s skin than I do the specific colour of their hair or eyes, or the minutiae of the outfit they’re wearing. It just bogs you down in detail. It also, to me at least, calls attention to racial differences and almost makes it seem that Peter judges everyone, first and foremost, based on skin colour and nationality. I do not find this to be a positive personality trait. However well-meaning it was on the part of the author, if he was trying to portray London as a cultural hub of equality then—for me personally—he fails. If, on the other hand, this is the COPPER in Peter, cataloguing and identifying people as and when he meets them, to give himself as much information as can be gained as possible through observation alone, then I applaud it. I find this to be an excellent character trait, and the only redeeming quality in his otherwise shoddy policing habits. It actually demonstrates that he is not utterly useless in all areas of policing, and genuinely does know police procedure very well, despite appearances and his apparent apathy at times. In fact, the unconscious manner in which he does this, is so skilfully crafted that it is a constant aspect of Peter’s wold-view. This almost makes me wonder if his apparent lack of skills in many areas of policing are just that: appearance. I wonder if there is in fact an excellent cop, lurking beneath the surface, who for reasons of his own—perhaps even the fact he is mixed-race and has an inferiority complex of some kind as a result of that—likes to appear to be ineffectual. As a result, I much prefer to look at it in this light, although I’m certain opinions on this will differ greatly.

But back to the plot. While he was at the victim’s house, Peter ran into Wilkinson’s mistress, Simone, and discovers that Wilkinson had booted his wife out of their home and moved Simone in. She is actually in the process of packing to move back out again when Peter meets her, and it is only as he’s leaving, and sees the wife furiously—but victoriously—returning home, that he realises what was going on. He flirts with her from the moment they meet, and then keeps bumping into her while he’s out and about in Soho. They are soon sleeping together, using a tiny apartment she shares with her two sisters, and in one particularly memorable scene making love on the roof, under the moon—hence the book’s title. This happens very quickly, and Simone seems to swiftly forget her dead lover, while Peter seems to swiftly forget she has just suffered a bereavement and is actually a part of his case. He does briefly worry that it might be a conflict of interest, but dismisses the concern and doesn’t think about it again. His passionate affair with Simone continues throughout the book.

As part of the investigation into the Pale Woman, attacks are continuing, and increasingly violent and disturbing, Peter enlists the aid of Ash, one of the river spirits. Ash is the river spirit who has come down from Father Thames’ domain to live in Mama Thames’ domain, as part of the bargain made by Peter in the last book. Ash is a party boy, and seriously enjoying city life after being stuck in the country for so long. Peter asks him to watch the local bars and night clubs in the hopes that he—as a supernatural being—might be able to spot the Pale Woman and tip Peter off to her whereabouts before she kills again. That night Ash does indeed see the Pale Lady, but she notices him as he is noticing her, and impales him on an iron spike—something which is deadly to the river spirits (iron that is, not spikes). It’s not clear if this is a weakness of just the river spirits, or supernaturals in general, but there is a great deal of folklore surrounding fairies and creatures of an otherworldly nature, and their weakness when it comes to iron. Ash manages to call Peter, who rushes to help him. He gets him into an ambulance to take him to hospital, but Ash makes it clear the iron is killing him and must be removed, while the paramedics are naturally telling him that it is preventing Ash from bleeding out, and removing it would kill him. Peter decides to chance it, removes the spike, and then absconds with the ambulance in order to get Ash to the river. Ash insists the water will heal him. Peter succeeds, but not without wrecking the ambulance and causing considerable damage to several streets along the way. He also has to jump into the Thames with Ash, and almost drowns.

An interesting point here is that two of the other river spirits come to aid Ash, but leave Peter to his fate—they can’t help him. If he drowns in the river, he belongs to the river, and the river will claim him. If he’s to survive he must make it out alone. He does indeed manage to swim to shore, but not without extreme difficulty.

The entire incident with the ambulance lands him in an awful lot of trouble with his superiors, who tolerate the Folly, but only barely, and have zero tolerance for Peter’s slap dash method of dealing with critical situations when left to his own devices. As we saw in River of London, Peter tends to cause mayhem when he’s left to deal with things alone, and this time even Nightingale is displeased. He raises the very valid question of what Peter was thinking putting Ash—a civilian, even if he is a supernatural—in danger in the first place. Peter’s response that he was only supposed to keep an eye out for the woman, not go near her, is hardly comforting. The fact he didn’t foresee the danger he was putting Ash in is just typical of his entire approach to policing. He also failed to consider what would happen to Beverley Brook, Mama Thames’ daughter, currently in residence with Father Thames, should Ash have died. Now, Peter clearly didn’t think about this at all. In fact, it is very obvious that he hasn’t given a second thought to Beverly since he brokered the agreement that led to her being sent up the river as a hostage in the first place. Given the fact he and Beverly were getting on very well in the previous book, and obviously liked each other, this is just another example of Peter’s approach to women: out of sight, out of mind. He likes them if they’re there in front of him, looking pretty, but the second they’re out of sight, he forgets about them. In Lesley’s case, even when she is there he all but sets aside his feelings for her, because she is no longer attractive. Worse still, Peter doesn’t even seem concerned by the fact he failed to consider these things, once they are brought to his attention—he doesn’t take them to heart, he never seems to learn from his fuck ups.

Meanwhile, as Peter and Nightingale explore the house of one of the deceased jazz musicians, they find several books on magic. Nightingale recognises the insignia inside the jacket as belonging to the library of his old school in Oxford. Together, the pair of them return to the school and get a list of other books that were checked out and never returned. Peter gets a really good look into Nightingale’s past, and what things were like for magicians before the Second World War. He also sees a wall, upon which someone has written dozens if not hundreds of names. Upon asking Nightingale about it, he finds they are the names of the dead, those who fought and died in the war, and that Nightingale himself is the one who wrote them. Every single name. Men he knew, men he’d grown up with, who had studied with him and died in front of him, while he and only a very few others survived. Those who did survive were, aside from Nightingale, so traumatised that they never practiced magic again. This section is Moon Over Soho’s equivalent toRivers of London’s infanticide scene. Both books are told in the light, jovial tone of Peter’s humour. They are very funny, yet they are still about serious things. The plot is about to dive headlong into events that began in those days. Peter is about to start seeing modern repercussions of things that go back as far as the war, if not sooner. It is important for the reader to see this side of the book, and indeed this side of Nightingale, who until this point has been a bit of a blank slate, never giving much of himself away. By taking Peter to the school, he’s showing him a lot, not only about the history of magic, but about himself. The wall bearing the names of the dead, carved into ancient wood with a knife, is very much a reflection of Nightingale: his friends are gone, yet he lives on, and not only lives, but he’s actually aging backwards, and doesn’t know why. As far as he’s concerned, he’s already lived out his life. He should be dead by now, another name carved on that wall, the last remnant of magic and all the evil it caused gone from the world. But he’s not. He lives on. Magic, far from declining, appears to be increasing in strength, and here is Peter, this fresh young thing, about to go through everything he himself went through and never wanted to teach to anyone else.

Returning to London with their list of books, Peter goes to the Musicians’ Union to see if he can find out anything further. They point him in the direction of another jazz musician who died unexpectedly. When Peter speaks to the man’s widow, he finds that she believes he was having an affair before he died, with a woman in Soho. A little more investigating on Peter’s part turns up some photographs of the Café de Paris, taken in 1941 after the bombing. In one of the photos, Peter sees the same woman he spoke to in the club, the one who sent him running off after the trombonist. She looks exactly the same in the present as she did in 1941, and it’s clear that she lied to him about working in the club when he spoke to her—she must have been there with the trombonist.

Peter concludes that this woman is some kind of ‘jazz vampire’ (yes, really), and theorises that she must feed on jazz energy, just as all magic and magical creatures must feed on some form of energy to sustain themselves (we learned this in Rivers of London when it became clear ghosts required magical energy to sustain themselves).

As Peter is puzzling over this, Stephanopolous calls him in again. Her investigation into the Pale Lady’s murders has led her to a retired cop, who has also been killed. While looking around his house and checking for vestigia, Peter sees another photograph, this time of the owner of the jazz club and the dead cop. Finally the two cases that have been running in tandem throughout the book collide, and Peter begins to suspect they are actually connected. The dead copper turns out to have worked in the Obscene Publications Squad during the seventies, a department that is notorious for being filled with corruption, and police officers willing to look the other way.

Peter and Stephanopolous question the club owner, who confirms their suspicions—the dead police officer was dirty and the club owner was previously part of several criminal activities, including sex trafficking. In addition to this, however, he drops a bomb shell: he’s willingly telling them all of this in the hopes they will protect him. There’s a new player in town, and he scares the crap out of this guy. The man is a wizard, and we are mysteriously told he has no face—it’s either that, or his face can’t be seen, it’s not entirely clear which.

They raid the club, Nightingale going in first to disarm several magical booby-traps, and discover some rather disturbing evidence of both sex trafficking, and magic, including cat people (yes, really). As they are busy raiding the club, the Pale Lady arrives at the police station and attempts to kill the club owner. Peter arrives back in time to chase her out through the streets, and eventually into a shopping precinct, where he uses one of the magical spells he’s been experimenting with to knock her down. Unfortunately it’s a lot stronger than he was expecting, and it sends her flying over a balcony, killing her. Peter actually has the grace to feel remorse for this, despite what she’s done, and this goes a long way towards redeeming him for some of his other cavalier actions and attitudes during this book.

Peter then goes to speak to Lady Ty, one of the river spirts. The two do not get along at all, but Peter knows she was at Oxford at the same time the books were borrowed from the library at Nightingale’s school. Lady Ty reluctantly tells him that she was aware of a small group of magical practitioners operating in Oxford at the time, and going by the name of the Little Crocodiles.

The following day Peter takes Simone—who has been exhausting him with their sexual antics and repeatedly pestering him to take her to see his father play—to watch his Dad’s first gig with his new band. Unfortunately, Peter’s mother sees Simone and goes a little crazy (even for Peter’s mother), attacking her and declaring her a witch. Simone is totally confused and runs off, but when Peter demands an explanation from his mother, he’s told that Simone tried to seduce his father—forty years ago. She looks exactly the same in the present as she did back then. Just like the girl in the photograph from the Café de Paris, who Peter saw at the Jazz club before the trombonist died. Realising what this must mean, Peter goes after Simone and confronts her, but when he demands an explanation it becomes clear she has no idea what she is or what she’s been doing. It seems her memory is very hazy, and much as we witnessed her swiftly forgetting about Wilkinson at the start of the novel, it would seem she is always like this—living in the moment, only able to retain knowledge of what is going on now. He tries to force her to remember what happened to her in the Café de Paris, and what has been happening to these musicians. When she realises that he’s telling the truth she’s both terrified and disgusted by her true nature, running away once again to find her sisters.

Peter goes to Nightingale to try and figure everything out and together they conclude that something happened to Simone and her sisters while they were studying music, which gave them a natural magical ability that’s different to anything Nightingale has seen before. Somehow, when the bomb struck the café, this innate magic saved them, but it also tied them to the jazz scene and the song that was playing at the time they should have died—‘Body and Soul’. Since then they have been subsisting on the life force of jazz musicians, not quite alive, but not dead. They’re some bizarre mix of human, vampire, and ghost. Peter rushes off to find them before Nightingale does, knowing that his mentor will kill them, as he would any other dangerous supernatural. He reaches their flat, but instead of finding them there he runs into the mysterious magician that the club owner had warned them about who, sure enough, has no face. Or at least, has some kind of mask or spell covering his face that make it impossible to see it. He is apparently there because the three sisters have come to his attention and he wants to enlist them, much as he did the Pale Lady.

Peter finds himself once more on the roof top, beneath the moon, fighting it out with the mysterious magician—who Peter imaginatively names the Faceless Man. Peter only just survives the encounter, and it seems likely that the magician could have killed him had he chosen to do so. Nightingale arrives and tries to convince Peter that the women should be killed: whether they were aware of what they were doing or not they have still caused countless deaths in order to prolong their own lives. Peter, however, is adamant, and says that killing them would be an execution. They are police officers, not assassins. He wants to take the sisters to the Folly for safe keeping, and let them stay there, much as Nightingale appears to have done at some stage with Molly, the housekeeper, who is far from human herself. Nightingale agrees, but reluctantly. As it turns out they are too late—when they finally find them, sitting at the same table they would have died at in 1941, the three have ensured they can hurt nobody else by taking poison and champagne: they sit in a strange, frozen tableau, already dead.

The novel closes with Peter going once more to see Lesley. Again I would point out here that the reason for his visit has more to do with the fact he’s feeling a little lost and depressed after Simone’s death, than any desire to see Lesley, or concern for how she’s getting on. Lesley however has a shock for him—she was really paying attention to the spell he showed her at the start of the book, and has learned to do it herself.

Lesley can do magic.

 

The best elements of the book undoubtedly remain the writing and Aaronovitch’s ability to convey a lot of information about London and the Metropolitan Police department in a way that is engaging a genuinely funny. Again, I found the descriptions of London to be a little much at times, but they weren’t nearly as overdone as in book one. Peter’s humour, self-deprecation, and general ability to poke fun at things is nicely done. For the most part, it is also inoffensive. The only point where I found myself annoyed by the manner in which someone was portrayed was Stephanopolous. I found her characterisation to be lazy and two dimensional, as well as so stereotypical it bordered on offensive. I am not suggesting that there are no butch lesbians in the world. What angers me about this portrayal is not the fact she is ‘the butch lesbian copper’, it’s the fact there is NOTHING ELSE TO HER. That is literally all she is. She does get marginally better in future books as she’s given more to do, but even then, she herself doesn’t talk about anything other than the fact she’s a lesbian copper. She has no personality. I’m not sure if this is down to the author just not bothering to flesh out the character, or if it’s because he doesn’t understand that lesbians are as well rounded as the next person. Either way I find it extremely annoying.

Although there is humour throughout the book, it is also laced with tragedy. I find this to be a welcome addition, and as with River of London it is what raises this series in my estimation over your average Urban Fantasy. The glimpses we get of Nightingale’s time before and during the war, the portrayal of the tragedy of the London blitz, and the climax of the plot concerning the dying jazz musicians, all came together to really add depth to what would otherwise have been a run of the mill trot through a supernatural crime.

I enjoy the dynamic between Peter and Nightingale, with Peter, on the one hand, being very young and idealistic, and Nightingale, on the other, being far older than he seems and tired of the world. You can tell he has had his fill of magic, he had no wish to train someone else, so that they would have to go through the kind of things he’s endured. Yet he is not cruel, or harsh, or unfair to Peter—in fact if anything he’s incredibly patient with him.

It was nice to see some romance, however I really must take issue with several aspects of the romance plot. First and foremost, Peter completely forgets his previous attraction Lesley, despite the fact that, in the first book, he seemed to be bordering on falling in love with her. She is no longer physically attractive and thus there is suddenly a question mark there for him. He doesn’t know what to do with his feelings, or whether he even has any for her in that regard anymore, so he just shelves the whole thing and moves on. Now, you could argue at this juncture that the reason for this is Simone, and that he has either fallen head over heels in love with someone else, and this is why he’s suddenly forgotten about Lesley, or that there is some magical influence going on there that has over-ridden his feelings. There are three problems with this argument. One, he hasn’t yet met Simone at the start of the book when he is first trying to fathom out his feelings over Lesley, and it is clear, even then, that the damage to her face has seriously damaged the feelings he had. Two, Lesley wasn’t the only girl in book one that he was crushing on, there was also Beverley Brook, who he gamely sent to live up river as part of the bargain he struck between Mama and Father Thames.  As far as we are aware, from the point he made that deal, to the point she comes back into the narrative in a later book, Peter doesn’t spare her a second thought. She is only mentioned once in this novel, and that is whenNightingale is questioning whether Peter had considered what would happen to her, should anything happen to Ash—the country river who had come to live in the city in her place. Finally, there is no evidence what so ever that Peter was enthralled in any way. There is nothing to suggest any kind of supernatural influence played a part in his romance. Simone was attracted to Jazz musicians, and her interest in Peter seems to have either been genuine, and nothing to do with her needs, or a means to an end: a way of reaching his father—it’s not entirely clear which, and may actually be both. There is no indication she was any kind of seductress, and since she wasn’t even conscious of what she was doing to these musicians it makes it even less likely, unless she was unconsciously causing him to fall for her. In fact she has already tried, and failed, to seduce Peter’s father would seem to indicate that this isn’t one of her powers, and the fact she’s had so many relationships with Jazz players is simply down to the fact she’s so interested in them, and many of them have returned the interest. Peter’s father declined, it stands to reason Peter himself could have, had he chosen.

Which leads us to another point. Not only is Simone not an excuse for Peter’s lack of attention to the two existing love interests he had, it is not an excuse for his blatant, repeated, and alarming stupidity throughout the course of this novel. First, he gets involved with the mistress of a murder victim, a stupendously bad idea because she is, at the least, a material witness in a case he is working on, and at worst, a suspect. Second, he doesn’t ever really stop to think if it’s a good idea, what the consequences may be, why he’s doing it, where it’s going, or what it could mean for his career. Thirdly, he doesn’t notice the many, and blinding obvious indications that there is something seriously not right with Simone. She forgets her lover almost the instant he’s dead and takes up with Peter. She lives in a one bedroom flat with her two sisters, neither of whom he ever sees. She has no apparent job, yet spends lavishly on whatever she wants. And finally, but perhaps most alarming, she’s obsessed with seeing his father, A JAZZ MUSICIAN, at a time when something in Soho (where she lives!) is KILLING JAZZ MUSICIANS, and only very shortly after her last lover, A JAZZ MUSICIAN, unexpectedly died.

Not only does Peter not question any of this, he takes her to see his father!

This leads me to one very simple conclusion. It’s a sad conclusion, but it is backed up by the opinion I had already formed in books one. Despite the fact that he is, in many ways, lovable and charismatic, Peter Grant is really, truly, astonishingly DUMB.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a protagonist – after all if they were a smart arse and always had the answers there would be nothing left to find out and no reason to keep reading, but this level of stupidity is just not easy to deal with. This is especially true because it is still at odds with his supposedly scientific mind. He experiments with magic and spells, measuring their effects and devising new ways of doing things. This makes it appear he’s reasonably intelligent, yet I’m not at all sure this is the case. I mentioned before that the background he has in science doesn’t match up with the knowledge he displays. In the first book, I thought this was simply a contrivance used by Aaronovitch to explain how he had any scientific knowledge, something he needed Peter to have for the sake of the plot. I’m starting to change that opinion. Thus far, his science experiments have done nothing productive, other than allow him to create a switch that stops his phone getting fried every time he uses magic. What they have done however is elicit repeated warnings from Nightingale that he is learning magic incorrectly, and that by modifying spells in the way that he does he is damaging his learning in a way that cannot be undone. In this book he has already killed the Pale Lady, by accident, because he used a modified version of a spell. This seems to confirm what Nightingale is saying, and also potentially foreshadows darker events to come in the series as a result of Peter’s stubbornness. He likes to think he’s a scientist, and play at experiments, but he’s not—he doesn’t have the educational background and knowledge to back it up, and so things are going awry.

Another echo of Rivers of London and Peter’s ability to totally fuck up when left to his own devices comes with the incident with Ash and the ambulance—he places a civilian in a position that could potentially lead to him getting hurt, without any backup. It is obvious that he did not even consider the possibility Ash could be hurt, let alone consider the fall out should that happen or, worse, he should die. He effectively placed the lives of two of the river spirits—Ash and Beverly—in danger simply by failing to realise the potential for more to occur than he planned. He told Ash to look for someone and call him if he saw her—he didn’t think beyond that, to what Ash should do once he’d made the call (should he follow her if she left, so that Peter could find her?), or what would happen if she should see Ash and attack him as she had attacked others, which of course is exactly what happened.

One final point that needs mentioning concerns the plot. You may have noticed that I’ve bounced back and forth from one paragraph to the next, with Peter investigating the jazz deaths one minute, then the Pale Lady the next, then off to Oxford and quizzing Tybrun a little while later. There was a lot going on in this book, and for most of it, the threads were unrelated. There are two main plots at work—the jazz musicians and the Pale Lady—with the former leading into a third plot that will be continued in later books—the Little Crocodiles and the Faceless Man. The latter seems only very loosely related to anything that happens in this book, and it seems tacked on at the end as a means of introducing the setup needed for book three. There is no indication as you’re reading that the Pale Lady is working for some higher power, this only comes in right at the end. Had it been built up throughout the book, that yes she was causing blood murder but there was far more going on than met the eye, it might have shored up the plot somewhat and made the developments at the end seem more natural. The murders committed by the Pale Lady should have been a mystery, they should have been enigmatic and worrying, telling the reader that somethingbigger was coming, something worse, something that neither Nightingale nor the Met were even remotely prepared to deal with. Instead the two main plots bounce around with little focus for about ninety percent of the book, before finally coming together at the end in a manner that only loosely connected them. Peter’s first encounter with the Faceless Man is dubious—it is highly coincidental that he just happened to find out about Simone and her sisters, and come to recruit them, at the exact time Peter had finally realised the truth and confronted them with it. Had he found out less than half a day sooner he may have successfully got them on his side. Had he found out so much as half an hour later, Peter would already have arrived at the flat, found they weren’t there, and left again before the Faceless Man appeared. You could argue that this was an excuse on the part of the Faceless Man, who actually really wanted to meet Peter, but his comments would indicate otherwise. Despite the coincidental nature of their meeting, when they do meet, it is excellently done, and the final scene with Simone and her sisters is wonderfully written.

Overall it’s an excellent read, despite my desire for improvements in how the plots are woven together, and my irritation at Peter’s general stupidity. I’d definitely give this a five out of five, and a stamp of must read for any Urban Fantasy fans. It’s not quite as good as book one in some regards, but in other it absolutely excels.

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