Midnight Riot is one part police procedural, another part magic 101, London travelogue and is an overall riotous good time!
Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot follows Police Constable Peter Grant, who overnight, goes from a smart but unmotivated novice copper to apprentice wizard in the Met’s oddest crime fighting division mandated to keep the ‘Queen’s Peace.’ When a head is popped off a British muckity muck and Grant goes looking for answers, his first witness, a spectral snitch.
Yup, from that point on Grant, the brainy but odd son of a one time jazz luminary, begins an investigation into a paranormal London of river gods, vampires, ghosts, spells, incantations and some painful carnal pining for a fellow PC and a young woman who oozes liquid sensuality.
Aaronovitch smartly meshes pop cultural with the deep veins of occult (as in hidden) history of London as background to the wanderings of Grant and his boss, DCI Thomas Nightingale, coming together to form a sort of weird and real travelogue of London.
While Grant is the story’s heart, the guts and soul of Midnight Riot comes from his superior wizard, Nightingale. The second Nightingale was introduced by Aaronovitch we were hooked. He was the antipode to Grant, the geeky, slightly insecure cop, to the smooth and skilled Nightingale. They make a perfect pair, master and apprentice, each teaching the other something.
The second Nightingale strode into the story, our mind immediately flashed charm and swagger actor Bill Nighy with Trevor Eve’s Waking the Dead bulldog tenacity.
An important piece to Nightingale is that unlike many other magicians wandering around modern genre fiction, Nightingale, as well as Grant, ‘have a pair.’ They are gutsy, brave and bold. When something serious goes down at a residence in Midnight Riot (we won’t say because it’s spoilerly) Nightingale, an apparently old wizard, doesn’t whip up some convenient magic. No, he instead, kicks in a door and charges into the home like a good cop. But instead of armed with a gun or baton, Nightingale and Grant have a holster full of magic.
Some would be compelled to make Harry Potter comparisons, apprentice wizard and all. But the lil guy with the glasses, even as nerdy comparable to Grant, couldn’t live in this world. Some of the villains in Midnight Riot would steal Potter’s milk money and use his Nimbus to light their meerschaum pipe.
This is a wonderfully cheeky reality. Cops enforce real laws on real people, both normal and paranormal folks. No escaping to convenient misty veiled realms, invisible double-decker buses or far off prep schools. When a copper comes looking for you, magic ain’t giving you an out without consequences.
Midnight Riot’s magic, in many ways, obeys Newtonian laws, with a tweak here or there. Another reason why this was tremendously enjoyable.
Speaking of Newton, in Midnight Riot Aaronovitch also pays homage to Sir Issac Newton, who in addition to being the leading scientific thinker in history as also keenly interested in religion and alchemy.
Also, this is brutal and gruesome real London. There are shocking crimes committed, especially early on in the story arc that are completely gut wrenching. Not gratuitous splatter type of writing, but scenes of magically deranged killing portrayed in plausible and nauseating ways.
Interestingly, Aaronovitch’s style of writing is crisp and clipped in ways unknown in most modern novels. Perhaps it’s his experience in writing for television, specifically the stylized banter of Doctor Who, that provides Midnight Riot an especially engaging, witty and perfectly timed pace. The interplay is authentic, if we knew oddly urbane humans were interacting in a strange off center world of river gods and squatter vampires.
We might be looking back in ten years at a mini-renaissance of British-centric urban paranormal universe, each distinct from the other, crafted by entirely different writers, but all having a consistent quality that could result a truly epic omniverse.
That being said, Aaronovitch has a place at that to be set literary table. By far, Midnight Riot is the most fun, smart and brilliant piece of paranormal fiction we’ve read in ages.
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch was purchased for review by Boston Book Bums