Moon Over Soho is the second book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, the first being Midnight Riot (U.S.) or Rivers of London (U.K.). In his first adventure, Peter Grant, a magic-wielding constable, investigated a series of crimes tied to the theater. This time around, in Moon Over Soho, Peter takes on jazz: When a part-time jazz musician drops dead from what seems like a heart attack, the jazz notes lingering on his corpse indicate a supernatural cause of death, requiring the investigative work of our charming Mr. Grant.
Read It Fast or Read It Slow
I previously noted that Midnight Riot was a “fun and fast read,” but I must clarify. Both Peter Grant books are “fun and fast” thanks to the abundant humor, action, and adventure. But readers seeking something more will also find Aaronovitch’s attention to history, popular culture, geography, and science rewarding.
A Rich, Alternate London
In a sense, all urban fantasy novels are alternate histories, exploring what our world would be like if magic, vampires, werewolves, etc. existed. Where other urban fantasy novels may decide to gloss over this alternate history aspect, Aaronovitch explores it to the series’s credit. For example, in the Peter Grant world, a certain past famous scientist wrote an entire treatise on magic. Contemporary scientists also have genetic theories as to why preternatural beings exist, such as the woman with the vagina dentata, whose victims bleed to death. And when Peter is asked to fix the damage caused by magic with more magic, he explains that doing so may be ineffective; i.e., you use balms and creams to heal a burn, not more fire.
In my review of Midnight Riot, I claimed there was little in common with the Harry Potter series (as noted by a cover blurb), except that Latin words were associated with the casting of spells. What that means for Peter Grant, though, is that he also actually has to study Latin. These small touches that ground the story in reality enhance the magical aspects in return.
A Charming Lead
Anchoring all the magic, action, and science is Peter Grant, who provides a strong center for the series, aptly named in his honor. Unrefined as his humor may be (and as expected from a London constable), Peter is nevertheless that charming scoundrel you want not only to hang out with, but also to back you in dangerous situations.
Police Procedural with Insights
Part of Aaronovitch’s attention to detail involves insight into forensic investigations, and should appeal to fans of police procedurals. Some examples:
I showed her my warrant card, and she stared at it in confusion. You get that about half the time, mainly because most members of the public have never seen a warrant card close up and have no idea what the hell it is.
“Would you like me to arrest you?” I asked. That’s an old police trick: If you just warn people they often just ignore you, but if you ask them a question then they have to think about it. Once they start to think about the consequences they almost always calm down, unless they’re drunk of course, or stoned, or aged between fourteen and twenty-one, or Glaswegian.
Why Should You Read This Book?
Aaronovitch once half-jokingly touted Midnight Riot as a “book that [his family] called the best book ever written by anyone ever in the history of time.” Midnight Riot was a very strong start to the Peter Grant series, but I wasn’t sure how the series would progress. While my praise for Moon Over Soho may fall short of the Aaronovitch family’s praise of Midnight Riot, Moon Over Soho cements the Peter Grant series as my favorite urban fantasy series. The humor, the world-building, the action, the magic, the mystery, the procedural—all are top-notch.