Book Review: Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

How long has it taken me to getting around to reading this when I absolutely loved the first two Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho? Too long, but I got there in the end. This is the third book in Ben Aaronovitch’s wonderfully hilarious urban fantasy Rivers of London series and it takes us, quite naturally, into the London Underground.

Officer Lesley still has her horrific facial injury but she’s decided to get back out into the world a lot more. Their mission this time is to investigate the strange death of an American senator’s son found on the tracks of the London Underground slightly before rush hour. Next to the dead body is a pool of blood inside which is a shard of stoneware pottery. Peter thinks (initially) it’s a case for his regular routine but getting the magic senses soon convinces him otherwise. When an FBI agent shows up on behalf of the Senator to investigate his son’s death, Peter has yet another distraction getting in the way of learning magic.

Nightingale is surprisingly absent in this book. He’s here, he’s just not as prevalent as the previous two. His reduction into the background feels a little premature. Peter now knows magic, but he has a long way to go by his own admission.

This third book slots in quite nicely, throwing us back into the world of magical London, building on the world and the careful mythology. It never feels overwhelming. Peter’s sharp wit and street wisdom is, and continues to be, part of his own comic relief. As the main hero, he gets most of the best lines. Most of those witty one liners are nods to other genre books. The Harry Potter references come thick and fast. There are so many I have to wonder whether Mr Aaronovitch has some sort of agreement with Ms Rowling to not sue him.

But there are not just Potter references to delight the reader. Tolkein gets more than a few nods, as does Robert E. Howard’s Conan. There is even one rather hilarious references to Avenue Q. Like any modern London copper, Peter Grant knows his pop culture and Aaronovitch knows his audience. These references blend seamlessly and add to the humour rather than detract from it. The stories carry their own weight but each satirical reference only makes the events that much more memorable. This isn’t the middle class upmarket London heroes we are used to which makes quite a refreshing change.

The more of this I read, the more I feel this is a natural successor to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere although (and perhaps surprisingly), that book has not yet been referenced in this series. I suspect it’s only a matter of time though. Almost every other major fantasy series has been referenced so far.

For me, this has been the weakest in what is a great series of books. My interest was starting to sap towards the end and when the revelation of who and why were answered, I found I didn’t really care. This is not a bad book though. For me, it was simply outshone by the previous two books. Still enjoyable and well worth a read.


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