Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
First Published: 2013
Pages: 357 (Hardback)
Series: Peter Grant #4
A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?
Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.
So far so London.
But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate.
Is there any connection?
And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?
I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is impossible to replace. It was the first book I read after seeking help to manage my depression – and as such marked the first time I had managed to truly and unreservedly enjoy anything for months, possibly years. But, if I try to remove that from the equation, Broken Homes is definitely the best written and best plotted of the Peter Grant books so far and, without a doubt, has the most exciting climax.
A brief explanation for the uninitiated – Peter Grant is a London Police officer. He is also an apprentice magician. In that order. One of the best and most unique elements of this urban fantasy series is that – though there might be magicians, river goddesses, dryads and fairies – it’s actually very ‘realistic’ in tone. Peter and his partner, Lesley, do real policework, not the ‘maverick cop’ or ‘lose cannon’ stuff you see in most crime novels and TV, but real PC plod stuff, slowly putting together a case and working with, rather than against, their superior officers. Though often the rest of the police would really rather not have anything to do with the ‘weird shit’ Peter’s department specialises in.
So when said ‘weird shit’ starts happening, mutilated bodies turning up in the woods, a man cooked from the inside out, a very suspicious suicide, and a stolen book of magical spells, Peter is the one who has to piece it all together while the local police work on their separate murder enquiries. And all clues lead to Council tower-block in South London, and Peter’s nemesis, the Faceless Man.
It’s a bit slow to get started at first, with Peter being given case after seemingly unconnected case and the links between them forming quite slowly. For the first few chapters, I actually quite enjoyed that, it’s part of the ‘realism’ of the series and I really like the way Peter describes crime scenes and police procedure. Around the point where there was an interlude for Peter and Lesley to police a magical festival I got a little irritated though. It seemed a bit plonked down and nothing to do with anything, the net result of it only being a couple of slightly tiresome ‘why aren’t you fucking Beverly?’ conversations later in the book (Peter’s narration is really best when it’s not talking about women he fancies). But after that brief interlude things really started to come together again and the last half of the book is absolutely brilliant.
I just love this series (with the exception of the second book). The characters are great – more so now that Lesley has moved from ‘romantic interest’ to ‘close friend’ – the magic system is unique, and it’s just full of oddball but wonderful ideas. The narration, a first person account from Peter, is really well done, and London is portrayed as the diverse city it really is rather than peopled (and policed) by exclusively straight white dudes. The series keeps adding to the rich world-building with each book and there’s lots of new stuff to learn here without it ever really feeling particularly info-dumpy.
This book also turns the Faceless Man into a real threat for me. Maybe he already was, but he was introduced in Moon Over Soho and I found that book so crushingly disappointing (lots of too-stupid-to-live moments and sex scenes that jarred with the tone) that I’m not sure I really took in much about him until this book. But, despite Peter’s boss Nightingale insisting that he’s ‘no Moriarty’, this book showed him to be a calculating and very credible threat that I look forward to seeing more of (though I have to say that Moriarty is a shitty villain who was defeated in his first story by being pushed off a cliff, most master criminals in most books are better villains than Moriarty). Also, this book finally let Nightingale show off just how badass he is is and it was AWESOME.
A really really great book with an absolutely brilliant ending. A couple of pacing issues in the first half are really all that’s holding me back from awarding five stars – but I am sorely tempted.
Very very much look forward to the next book in the series and I’m going to continue buying these in hardback the moment they’re released.