Peter Grant is a police constable with the Metropolitan Police, just about to finish his probationary period. He's not a bad policemen but nor is he particularly good either. He thinks too much about other things while people like his colleague, PC Leslie May, are getting on with the job. She is destined for a proper police role in The Met, Peter it seems is destined for the Case Progression Unit, the boring, office side of policing where the only thing Peter will get to drive is a desk.
Then one night a murder takes place in the Covent Garden area of London. A man's face is ripped off in a manner no one has seen before. Left alone to guard the scene while Leslie goes to get coffee, Peter sees the ghost of a man from another age. The ghost witnessed the crime and saw the murderer change shape before he did the deed. Not knowing whether he should report this odd turn of events, Peter eventually does. And that brings him to the attention of a certain DCI Nightingale.
Nightingale is a wizard and heads the section of The Met known as The Economic and Specialist Crime Unit. Except that it's not much of a unit, it's just him and he investigates the weird and wonderful stuff. Suddenly Peter is not headed for the boring CPU, he's been recruited by Nightingale to join his unit and investigate the death of the man at Covent Garden. The case is weird all right. More murders follow and slowly a pattern starts to emmerge. It's too bizarre for words. Even more bizarre is the sort of people Nightingale brings Peter into contact with. A nest of vampires, the god and goddess of the river Thames and their separate families and offspring are just the start of it. His colleague, Leslie, staggered at what Peter has got himself into, tries to help. Then something happens to Nightingale and Peter really is thrown in at the deep end, left alone to solve a puzzle that threatens to destroy the whole city.
What a good start to a new series. Well... new to me... it has actually been around for several years now. There were a couple of things about it that stood out for me. Firstly I liked the way the author brought modern-day London into the story. Anyone who knows the city will recognise it here, streets, areas, tube stations, tourist spots, anything and everything gets a mention. I'm not an expert on the city but I know it a bit and it was great fun picturing places like Covent Garden, St. Pauls, The Embankment and more in my head, because I've been there and know it. It is very much modern-day London too. There are many mentions of recent English culture, recognisable to anyone who lives here or who knows England - TV shows, politics, theatres, famous people, the book is really *really* English in a way that I found I enjoyed a lot.
The second thing I liked was the imaginative twists that are hard to describe without spoilers. The rivers of London are not actually rivers for instance but I'm not saying what they are. The background to the plot, the reason for everything happening, I guessed early on but it didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. I was able to marvel at the author's cleverness in incorporating this extra element into the murder plotline as I read, and it kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next and how he would handle it.
One huge plus for me was the humour: the book doesn't take itself at all seriously. Aaronovitch's writing style is comedic and it shows that he's a writer who has worked on various TV programmes such as Dr. Who. I laughed quite a lot and enjoyed the easy going, self-deprecating feel to the book and to the main characters. I liked Peter, I liked that his appearance is not your run-of-the-mill English policeman look, I liked his wizard mentor, Nightingale, too... hope to read a lot more about him in successive books.
In fact, I can't wait to read more, to be honest. I own the second book, Moon Over Soho and have book three, Whispers Underground, on my library pile. There is also a book four, Broken Homes which comes out in June I believe. I'm really pleased that my first book for Once Upon a Time VII was such a good, fun read, hopefully the rest will live up to this great start.