Monday 13 February 2023

Moon Over Soho

Chimeras At Midnight

Moon Over Soho
by Ben Aaronovitch
ISBN: 9780575097629

Moon Over Soho is the second novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s, so far quite brilliant, Rivers Of London series of novels (I reviewed the first installment right here). This one... which continues to revolve around police ‘apprentice to magic’ Peter Grant, who is to be the second of the Metropolitan police’s unofficial magic bureau  (after his guv’nor, Nightingale), based at ‘The Folly’... picks up on the action pretty soon where the last one left off. It’s actually, I have to say, not quite as twisty and turny as the first novel in the series and it’s fairly easy to get a jump on exactly just where the ‘mystery’ of this one is going. That being said, it’s still quite brilliant and is both witty and unusual.

This one deals with a mysterious killer using her ‘vagina dentata’ to bite the cocks off of men off as a method of killing and, also, a group of what Peter terms, ‘jazz vampires’. Not to mention some chimera and... well... lets call them cat people, to start off with. And, like the first (and presumably all) of these novels, it’s all set in and around areas of England’s capital which will be easily recognisable to most Londoners, especially those who have been alive long enough to know the places that have since vanished since Aaronovitch immortalised them here. Yeah, so there are a few places mentioned here which bought pangs of nostalgia and loss as I was reading about them... which is a shame.

So the branch of Valerie Patisserie, mentioned here as being the favourite place to source food from by one of the sexier characters is, I think, fairly recently gone. And the wonderful Ed’s Diner just off Cambridge Circus, my favourite place to eat in London, has now been gone a fair few years too, it’s sad to say. Similarly, a wonderfully exciting foot chase/fight sequence which takes place in The Trocadero in Piccadilly is another thing which, sadly for everyone who remembers the place, is long gone.

That being said, it’s nice to also read about events taking place in areas of Soho still very much around, such as The Groucho Club and, of course, my current favourite pub where a few friends and I meet for Christmas and birthday drinks every year, The Spice Of Life... where the first murder of the book takes place.

And it’s a nice mix of various elements but with a serious undertone to it, in that Peter’s ex-partner/friend Lesley, who still hasn’t recovered properly from her face falling off near the end of the last book, is having to live with the consequences of her inadvertent part of that last adventure. Gravitas aside though, it also has the required number of eclectic pop culture references although, I noticed this time that there seemed to be more literary ones than film references... such as Peter’s reference to The Strip Club Of Dr. Moreau or a startlingly clear but cleverly copyright free (it seems to me) reference to the fiendish devil Dr. Fu Manchu, which actually gives a small part of the origin of The Folly’s housekeeper, the vampire Molly. There’s also a ‘not so veiled’ set of references to Hogwarts, the school in the Harry Potter books which it is inevitable that people would make comparisons to, in terms of this series (myself included).

This one has got three things the first book didn’t really have... firstly, there seems to me to be a lot more emphasis on action rather than mystery. Not complaining, just a different style of story and I’m sure Aaronovitch adjusts the tone accordingly with each novel in the series (which I intend to read completely before long). Secondly, there’s a lot more sex in this... not graphic really, just a heck of a lot more of it but, this is also one of the things that gives the game away and which I suspect is unique to this novel. Without giving any spoilers, the sex certainly serves a story element which, sadly, put me well on track with a big part of the mystery long before, I suspect, I was supposed to cotton on to it.

Thirdly, this one doesn’t give you all the answers. There are things left unsaid and the main villain of the piece escapes justice at the end. One assumes that the writer is setting up a ‘Moriarty’ style arch-nemesis for Peter and Nightingale by the finish of this one. Nightingale has also not yet recovered from being shot near the end of the last book and it will be interesting to see if the action moves on year by year in the novels, since the London landscape being written about changes so much, making it practically a necessity to move the time setting on a fair dollop each novel, I would have thought.

Also, of course, there's also Aaronovitch’s magical way with words to describe certain things, my two favourite examples in this tome being “For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.” and also Peter’s wonderful description of the art of the burlesque dancer as “paying women to take off their clothes in an ironic, postmodern way...” which had me chuckling a bit, I can tell you.

And yeah, all this plus talking severed heads, a much larger and redeeming role for Peter’s dad (which, given the central plot all revolves around jazz, makes sense) and some more, brilliant ‘off beat’ characters that you know are just going to have to return in future novels in the series. Moon Over Soho is another terrific best seller in the Rivers Of London series (although, not a jumping on point, I think you need to read these in order) and I can’t wait to read the next one along.

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