Whispers Underground – Ben Aaronovitch

In a thorough muddle, I turned out not to have a seminar this afternoon, so I stayed in and finished my current book today. It’s… a mixed bag, I think.

Whispers Underground is the third of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series. I don’t know if that’s the official series title but whatever. The books he writes about the wizard-police. Them. I loved the first two very much indeed; they have excellent quantities of plot, character and hilarity and are just generally excellent books for most readers. Which means that the third, despite being a pretty good book on its own merits, has actually disappointed me because it’s not quite as good as its predecessors. Which feels a shame, because it’s not a bad book at all. But such is the price of Aaronovitch’s success.

Basically, there’s nothing hugely wrong with the third book. It’s just not quite /as/ amazing as the others. It just lacks that… excellence. The extra edge that makes me go mental and tell everyone I know to read it READ IT NOW. Also it suffers from a crippling Nightingale deficiency, which makes me sad, because Nightingale is excellent. Instead, we get a higher Lesley quotient with a side-helping of associated angst. Not a huge quantity, because Grant’s character (Peter Grant being the view-point character through the series) is not the sort of character you could really get away with piling high with angst. Some over-thinking, yes. Some excessive nerd-referencing, yes. Angst… not so much. Aaronovitch characterises him too much as “real English copper what does not get in a flap” to sneak much angst in. But there’s a touch more than previously, and it’s not great. There’s also much less interaction with the supernatural characters of the previous books, who seem to turn up a lot just now and then. But here, we see Lady Ty once, Olympia and Fleet and Chelsea all once… but all of them incredibly briefly and without much use to plot or anything. And there are interactions with some new characters (as well as an introduction or ten to the idea that more things exist than we’ve already been told) but no real, fun, exciting interaction, like with Mama Thames or all the others in books one and two. It mostly seems to be replaced with Grant getting told off for not doing some proper policing and paperwork. Which is all very well for realism, but books are more exciting when you main character runs off and sets fire to a tourist attraction than when he correctly files his case notes.

As to the plot, it’s another ripping yarn in the style of the other two (still obsessively rooted in the London geography; still over concerned with telling you about driving in London) and not particularly different in quality. Possibly slightly less exciting in a running-around-chasing-baddies way, but not that much worse for it. It’s still clever and doesn’t give too much away, but still leaves you at the end going “oooohhhh, I see what he did back there”. Which is nice.

I really am struggling to put my finger on exactly what’s wrong with the book. I just… I can’t get as enthusiastic about it as I’d like. Even though I really did laugh out loud to some of it, and smiled and enjoyed myself, it’s not as good as I’d hoped. There’s an accumulation of little niggles, that don’t feel like they come to much but sort of drag the whole book down a little. Even so, it’s still a good book. To drop a little from the level of the previous books still leaves it fairly high, and it’s a damn good series generally. So maybe don’t read it NOW, but definitely read it SOON.

Since I am continuing to avoid the Hamiltonian behemoth, I’m going to dabble in some more Miéville next. Maybe I’ll like him better when he’s writing less taunty books. I live in hope.


About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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One Response to Whispers Underground – Ben Aaronovitch

  1. Hmmmm. I haven’t read this one yet although I have read and really liked the other two. Sad to hear there’s less Nightingale :(.

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