'Moon Over Soho' by Ben Aaronovitch
Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a lovely weekend.
For today's book discussion, I'm talking about Moon Over Soho, the second in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series and the one that has basically got me through lockdown. If you missed my first post on Rivers of London, you can check it out here.
In this book, we are back with wizard copper PC Peter Grant and Governor Thomas Nightingale. What I would say straight off the bat is how surprised I was that Peter was already off on his own. I mean, considering he had only just discovered he was a wizard. However as I said in my previous post, Peter really did have to hit the ground running. I mean, what else can you do when there's a network of evil wizards and spirits running amuck through the streets of London and right under your governor's nose? Plus, Nightingale (I would hope you aren't reading this post if you haven't read the other book but just in case SPOILER ALERT) gets shot at the end of the first book, so really Peter had to pick up more overtime.
So yes, when we dive back in to the second book, Peter is off working on his own.
The book also opens up on a quote that is central to it's main focus: 'Men have died for this music. You can't get more serious than that', a quote by Dizzy Gillespie as quoted by Ben Aaronovitch in Moon Over Soho.
I had mentioned in my previous post that Aaronovitch takes real, tangible things and gives them a magic twist. In the first book, it was Punch and Judy shows. An old, traditional puppet show, Aaronovitch made an actor-not-ready-to-dies' spirit act out classic Punch and Judy shows which, upon discovery, eventually enabled Peter to figure out the spirit's next moves and put a stop to his chaos. In Moon Over Soho, however, we find that the music of jazz has taken on a whole new magical meaning.
Specifically, local jazzmen keep dying off, and it soon becomes apparent to the police that it's no coincidence. This specific detail allows us to learn more about Peter's own family history, since his dad is legendary jazz musician Richard 'Lord' Grant. Due to his upbringing, Peter too can identify and recognise important details in this jazz-centric case.
This is just one of the reasons why I love the Rivers of London series - making magic feel real, yes, but also taking something perfectly ordinary and turning it into something supernaturally extraordinary. Plus, once you and Peter figure it out alongside one another, it starts to feel like a magical Sherlock Holmes book. However the amount of times I've thought to myself that I've figured out the plot twist or the next part - and I never, ever have. The series is so wacky and out there at points it's best to just let Aaronovitch tell you what's happening - there's really no point in guessing.
Now in this book Peter also gains a love interest - not the expected Lesley though. Simone, who later turns out to be what is referred to as a 'jazz vampire'. Her, and two sisters, unknowingly suck the life source out of others to keep themselves alive. And just so happen to be of the era of jazz and so attracted to jazzmen. This was a pretty sad part to the book because Peter and Simone genuinely did love each other. There's a few points where you think Simone knew what she was doing but, as it turns out, she had no idea she was accidentally killing people. And in the end, she and her two sisters end up killing themselves. Ashamed of what they are and the lives they had unknowingly been living. This book, so far, has been the most sad. In a way, I guess you kind of knew something tragic was coming though - Peter is a policeman after all, and he got involved with a woman who had literally just been the partner of a now dead jazz musician. I did think Peter's logic was off on that one, mind you, considering he is a police officer and she was technically a suspect but regardless. In the end, they had quite a nice relationship but it unfortunately ended in tragedy. To be honest, I've just read back the chapter regarding her death, Peter finding her, etc. It's still quite heart-breaking and I'm not even going to quote it. It's so simply done and - have you ever noticed that? How when writers write about something sad, the less words they use or the less they tell you and leave up to the imagination, the more devastating it actually is? For me, there are two lines upon Peter finding Simone that are just so matter-of-fact but just so filled with sadness that I can't. Again, it's the whole thing about him being a police officer and having to have that matter-of-fact attitude, even when it's someone he loved. It's part of the job - and that is both good and bad.
Now, you'll notice I've just skipped right to the end of this book. That's because, to be honest, this book had less substance to the first and third (which I have also read and loved). As much as I liked the whole 'jazz' thing it wasn't as enthralling as the spirit of chaos and the dialogue between the Rivers in the first book. This one was all about following up on jazz leads and then Peter's relationship with Simone. There wasn't much plot besides that.
Like, yes, there was still the occasional bits of details marrying up - of course there was. For example, finding out who the other sisters were and how they linked back to the beginning of the book. Classic stuff in a mystery/police story. But it just wasn't as captivating as either the first or third book.
However, THAT ending.
I feel like this book was deliberately toned down for that very reason.
Simone and her sisters are who lead Peter and Nightingale to the antagonist who weaves himself throughout the rest of the series - currently known as the Faceless One. Or an evil practitioner, who is either training or has been trained by other evil wizards, to wreak havoc on London. Well, actually, I'm sure he has a more pressing, important reason, but I don't know what that is yet. I'm only three books in.
He's known as the Faceless One as he had been referred to throughout the book. Whenever witnesses were talking of their interaction with him they couldn't describe his face - their memory went fuzzy. It was a frustrating detail for Peter and Nightingale, and one which they couldn't get their head around. When you heard the first witness talk of the sensation, you would just assume they were lying because they didn't want to put themselves in danger in case the Faceless One came for revenge. However as the story progressed, and more people started to discuss the same sensation, it became more and more apparent that there was something much more serious (and magical) going on.
And then Peter almost gets killed and thrown off a roof top by the faceless magician. Oh, and there's a whole thing with a helicopter being brought down. I could easily see these books being made into action films. But that is besides the point.
So, as much as Moon Over Soho is a much slower read, it is the ending that makes it the turning point in the series. The moment when Peter comes face-to-invisible-face with one of the evil practitioners determined to bring destruction and chaos to the streets of London. The one who has been biding his time, building up his power, recruiting others - all right under Nightingale's nose. A rather dramatic meeting, it doesn't continue on into the third book, but he's always there in the background, an invisible threat (there are a lot of jokes available to me with this detail of his character and you can bet I'm going to use them all). Really, it is just the loose thread that starts off the unravelling of Peter and Nightingale coming to grips with just how bad the situation has gotten in London whilst Nightingale was none the wiser. So, really, this book felt, to me anyway, like more of a bridge in the world. It gave Peter a chance to go out on his own without Nightingale, gave you a bit more into his background with his family, and it introduced the antagonist that basically trained up all the other antagonists. So a slow start but then a very important end.
Overall, I did still really enjoy Moon Over Soho. It does feel like more of a 'getting into the story' story than the first Rivers of London did, but every series like this one has to have a book like that. If you've read and disagree, I'd love to hear your thoughts - maybe you can convince me to take this book as a great standalone.
For me though, it was about learning. You have to learn the world you're being invited into first before you get to the good stuff. And I really look forward to learning more of the Faceless one and the following show-down that must ensue.
The Rivers of London series really has kept me going during the lockdown months. If you're looking for a fast-paced magical Sherlock Holmes-esque type book, then this is the series for you.