‘Ello, ‘ello, what ‘ave we ‘ere?
ISBN: 978 0575097568
NOTE: This book is also known by another title, Midnight Riot. I don’t know why for sure, but I have a feeling it’s something to do with the market outside the UK. But more on that later…
SO many apostrophes in that title! You get what I’m going for there though, right cublings? It’s all a bit Saauf Lundun, innit. Oh alright, I’ll stop embarrassing myself now, and get back on topic. This book, or at least the copy that I read, has a quote from Diana Gabaldon on it’s cover which reads “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” Now, I’m no Potterphile, but if I’m not mistaken, not only did Harry Potter want to grow up and join “the fuzz” (or at least the magical version thereof), but that quote is going to put off a lot of people who probably would really enjoy this book. It’s funny, irreverent, and has enough serious subtext (on race, the nature of authority, and other good pondering subjects like that) to keep you engaged with the story long after you finish reading it.
Getting back to the Potter thing, Rowling takes the approach that magic is something you’re born with, and has to be developed if it’s going to be usable for the witch or wizard from an early age, right? Aaronovitch’s main character, Peter Grant, doesn’t discover that he’s capable of magic until he’s coming to the end of his probationary period as a police constable as a part of the London Metropolitan Police. Peter explains to his superior officer in the Police equivalent of the exit interview that he wants to join the CID and become a detective; but when the superior asks him why he doesn’t want to join one of the specialist units, Peter “suddenly had a horrible thought. What if they were thinking of sending me to Trident? That was the Operational Command Unit charged with tackling gun crime within the black community…[and]…always on the lookout for black officers to do hideously dangerous undercover work, and being mixed race meant that I qualified.” (p12) There are two things that interest me about this little two sentence nugget – firstly, that use of jargon. This book is full of it. That’s not something that I mind personally; in fact it bought back childhood memories of watching The Bill as a kid; “Get ‘im daaun to CID!”, etcetra, etcetra. The acronyms are only elongated once (thank goodness – nothing makes me more irritated that authors who feel the need to explain themselves again and again), so if you were someone who got obsessed about these things, it might be a bit annoying, but I just rolled right over them.
The second interesting thing about that sentence is the reference to race. When I was thinking about it afterward, I can’t actually remember ever having read a book with a mixed-race character as it’s lead. Which is weird, don’t you think? Maybe it’s just my bad memory, but it still interests me. There is a part later on in the book where a very senior police officer (who, to be fair, is under the influence of a rather malicious revanant) tells Peter that ‘back in his day’, Peter would be unwelcome to say the least in the Met; “A locker full of excrement would have been a warm-up. Odds are, a few of your relief would have taken you to one side and explained, in a rough but friendly manner, just how unwanted you were.” (p322) It’s always lurking as a subtext in the back of the story, and that is one of the things that made me enjoy it so much. I really believe that some of the most effective ways of getting people to think about these issues is to make us laugh about them first. Laugh, then think really, really hard.
There are lots of London-specific things in this book – see, I told you I’d get back to the whole ‘outside the UK market’ retitling issue. A working knowledge of some of the major areas of London would be helpful – I mean, a lot of it is to do with the Thames River and its tributaries, and although this is explained, it can give you more of an understanding (and therefore, more pleasure from reading the book) than if you didn’t know anything about London at all. I think that that’s why it’s been retitled for other markets – here in lil’ old New Zealand, we’re quite an Anglophilic culture (although less so than we once were), so a title like Rivers of London isn’t going to put too many people off.
Speaking of New Zealand, there are a few cute little mentions of it in this book, which to me is almost like spotting one of your friends in a crowd scene in a popular movie – you know there’s a chance that they’ll show up, but you have no idea where or when. So when you do see them, you get this absurd burst of pride-by-proxy, this grinning glow. Weirdly, the mentions are kind of esoteric – a Hare Krishna from Wellington (the capital city, for any of you that might be interested), and our famous-if-you-go-in-for-that-kind-of-thing rugby team, who go by the slightly horrific name of the All Blacks. That’s a name that comes from their early days as a team, when people didn’t think about that kind of thing; they just have all black uniforms, which I guess was kind of a big deal back in the day.
The only thing that I can think of that annoyed me about this book was the spelling and grammar errors. It’s completely unfortunate, and nothing that a slightly more careful edit wouldn’t have picked up, but I found them really distracting. For instance, when talking about the character Punch (yes, as in Punch and Judy), on page 305, the name is in there without an initial capital. There’s also another incident of a double full stop. Not slice-your-head-off errors, perhaps, but enough to be distracting and a bit irritating. But if an extra full stop and a lack of a capital letter are all I have to complain about, then Mr. Aaronovitch is doing pretty well, right? ‘Cause we all know how much I like to complain…