Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

My name is Peter Grant, police officer, apprentice wizard and well dressed man about town. I work for ECD9, otherwise known as the Folly, and to the Murder Investigation Team as ‘oh god not them again.’ But even their governor, the arch sceptic and professional northerner DCI Seawoll, knows that sometimes, when things go bump in the night, they have to call us in.

Which was why I found myself in an underground station at five o’clock, looking at the body of James Gallagher, US citizen and Arts Student. How did he avoid the underground’s ubiquitous CCTV to reach his final destination, and why is the ceramic shard he was stabbed with so strongly magical?

As the case took me into the labyrinth of conduits, tunnels and abandoned bomb shelters that lay beneath the streets I realised that London below might just be as complicated and inhabited as London above.

And worse, James Gallagher’s father is a US senator, so the next thing I know, I’ve got Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds of the FBI “liaising” with the investigation and asking awkward questions. Such as ‘just what are you guys hiding down here’ and ‘how did you conjure that light out thin air?’

DC Peter Grant is learning about magic – and what, exactly, is hiding in London’s shadows – at a fast rate. So, he’s pretty happy when he’s called along “just in case” to what looks like a random stabbing death on the tracks at Baker Street underground tube station. He’s hoping it’ll prove completely mundane and that he’ll soon be back to studying at the Folly. But with buried rivers, London’s biggest sewers and magical pottery all muddying the waters Peter soon realizes there’s a whole other world underground.

I have been really enjoying this series and this – the third book – is no exception. Aaronovitch somehow manages to blend a really chatty style of writing, as if we’re at the pub listening to Peter tell us of his exploits, along with a decently paced plot, really vivid and at times hysterically funny characters and this delightful sense of absurd. At times I laughed aloud, and others I cringed and had to put the book down for a moment. This writing is really amazing but it’s utterly addictive.

The plot is both complicated and simple – much like the previous books in this series. While the main thrust is a regular murder and solving the puzzle of who-dun-it, there’s such a vibrant and multi-layered world encompassing everything it’s impossible not to fall down the rabbit hole. Some of the River’s have cameo’s and I was thrilled that DC Leslie May plays a much more active role here than she did in the previous book. I really like Leslie and Peter and the way they both work together but also sometimes spark off each other. I’m deeply intrigued into how their relationship – both as colleagues and friends – will develop in further books.

Readers who enjoy a solid British story and don’t mind a strong dollop of humour, the paranormal and a titch of the absurd absolutely should try this book. Personally, I’d start back at the beginning with the first in the series, but that’s not strictly necessary – I definitely feel readers could pick this up and really enjoy it just on its own merits. But the world building, the characters and just the series itself is well worth the investment and starting at the beginning is what I’d do for the maximum benefit. I also suspect that after another two or three books the world building will have been strong enough and layered enough you might not be able to just jump in halfway through but will need to come back to the beginning – so I strongly feel it’s an investment worth making.

An excellent mystery, strongly paranormal and laugh aloud funny – this is a great book.

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