I had high hopes of ‘Rivers of London’. It was recommended to me by a couple of people whose judgment I trust. It was, broadly speaking, a fairly enjoyable read. But to be honest I was disappointed. it didn’t deliver on its initial promise. The plot was confusing, the central concept – the Magic Police – was derivative, and the subplot meandered (see what I did there?) to an anti-climax.
The novel features a young officer in the Met Police; who has an encounter with a ghost at a crime scene. He takes this unexpected event pretty much in his stride. It quickly leads him into the branch of the Met that deals with magic and the supernatural, and eventually to him becoming an apprentice wizard. There are two plots, one in which a demon possesses people and turns them into murderers, and one frankly rather minor sub-plot involving a dispute between the warring gods of the River Thames – hence the book’s title.
The pace is brisk, and the narrator is engagingly naïve, frank, and amorous towards his female police partner. Aaronovitch has done a lot of work here – the portrait of life as a city copper is convincingly done. The sense of place is strong – the area around Covent Garden in particular is meticulously recreated.
But as you may be able to tell, I am running out of positives. The negatives are demanding their say. First, there is a brutality to the novel that it would be wrong to overlook. The tone is generally light and comic, making it easy to ignore the gruesome nature of the murders, including that of a baby. Beneath the jokes there is areal nastiness that left a bad taste – quite a few people are killed during the course of the novel, nastily and casually. Secondly, the plotting is, how can I put this, relaxed – the pace of events can’t disguise the fact that this is just a series of things happening, linked by time and place but not driven by any overall logic or narrative.
Lastly, and this is a bit trivial but I am going to mention it anyway, the novel’s title refers to the sub-plot. The sub-plot, concerning the personification of London’s rivers, and a conflict between the demi-gods living amongst us, is interesting but largely undeveloped, and doesn’t go anywhere. If asked to guess the ending of the novel when halfway through I would have speculated that the plots would intersect, and the Rivers of London would justify its use as the novel’s title by playing a part in the denouement. Got that one wrong!
This is developing into a long series – I think Aaronovitch is six or seven books in by now, and I am sure will be developing his characters in more depth. But for now I am not planning to read further – I need to get back to some serious fiction!