Review: Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: December 5, 2013 to February 12, 2014
Read count: 2

It doesn’t normally take me this long to get through urban fantasy. The book just got away from me. Literally. I lost it, along with the rest of the series, to relatives visiting over Christmas break and didn’t get around to getting another copy until last week. So I’m just making sure to say the dates read have no bearings on how much I like this book.

This is another great installment by Ben Aaronovitch and the series definitely improves with each book. All the praises I had for the previous two books also apply here. Not that it should matter, but I feel as though I’m being repetitive when I say how much I like this series and Aaronovitch’s writing.

The premise is an American international student is found dead in a subway tunnel. The cause of death is murder, of course, and quite possibly murder by magic, which is why Peter Grant is called to the scene. Now that Leslie May is made apprentice, she also joins in on the investigative work. This case introduces Peter and Leslie to a whole new world of magic, very different from what’s he’s encountered up to now, and the trail takes him under ground into the tunnels, sewers, and more rivers of London. This new world of magic is literally a whole world, a different way of living, under ground.

Once again, Aaronovitch has found interesting ways to incorporate London’s history into London’s present time and then work both into the murder mystery and magic of the week. Like the previous two books, this story is another journey into the heart of London, this time literally, and what I really like about that is you learn new things with each chapter. I spent a good part of a weekend looking up London’s messed up sewer systems, and I didn’t mind at all. Another thing I like about these mysteries is that they’re smart and smartly plotted. They’re usually one step ahead of my calculations and that’s just how I like murder mysteries.

Some highlights from the book:

How the police actually handle your personal information:

In the old days every police station used to have a collator–an officer whose job it was to maintain boxes of card files full of information of local criminals, old cases, gossip and anything else that might allow the blue-uniformed champions of justice to kick down the right door. Or at least a door in the right neighbourhood.

Introducing Sergeant Kumar of the tunnels:

“If you have to walk the tracks with the juice on, then you stay off the sleepers. They’re slippery. You slip, you fall, you put your hands out and zap.”

“Zap,” I said. “That’s the technical term for it, is it? What do you call someone who’s been zapped?”

“Mr. Crispy,” said Kumar.

“That’s the best you guys can come up with?”

Kumar shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a major priority.”

Introducing DCs Guleed and Carey of the family relations unit:

The metal was painfully cold under my hands but it took me less than five seconds to get my foot on the top bar, swing myself over and jump down. My shoes skidded on the cobbles but I managed to recover without falling over.

“What do you think,” asked Carey. “Nine point five?”

“Nine point two,” said Guleed. “He lost points for the dismount.”

[…]

Given that all three of us were Londoners, we paused a moment to carry out the ritual of the “valuation of the property.” I guessed that, given the area, it was at least a million and change.

“Million and a half easy,” said Carey.

“More,” said Guleed. “If it’s freehold.”

Introducing Molly to the guest:

“This is Molly,” I said. “Molly–this is Zach who will be staying overnight. Can he use the room next to mine?”

Molly gave me a long stare and then inclined her head at me, exactly the way Ziggy the dog had, before gliding off towards the stairs. Possibly to put fresh linen on the guest bed or possibly to sharpen her meat cleavers–it’s hard to tell with Molly.

Law enforcement professionals at work:

‘I can’t believe you didn’t bring handcuffs,’ said Reynolds.
You didn’t!’ I said.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ said Reynolds.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ I said.
We both looked at Kumar. ‘Evidence,’ he said. ‘You said you were looking for evidence, not suspects.’
Our suspect had started shaking and making snorting noises.
‘And you can stop laughing,’ I told him. ‘This is really unprofessional.’

Adventures in the sewers:

“Stop,” I yelled. “Police.” I hoped they would, because I was getting knackered.

Our fugitive tried to pick up their pace, but my height gave me the advantage.

“Stop,” I yelled. “Or I’ll do something unpleasant.” I thought about where we were for a moment. “Even more unpleasant than what we’re doing now.”

[…]

“Oh, great,” I screamed. “Now we’re a bobsleigh team.”

“It’s the luge,” yelled Kumar. “It’s only a bobsleigh if you’ve got a bobsleigh.”

“You two are insane,” shouted Reynolds. “There’s no such thing as a triple luge.”

Between duckings I glimpsed a patch of grey. I opened my mouth to yell “Daylight” and then really wished I hadn’t when I got a mouthful of diluted sewage.

It was another intersection. I saw an alcove with a ladder and lunged–only to be swept past, with my fingers centimeters from the metal. My foot hit something underwater hard enough to pitch me over and the world’s first-ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team broke up.

The scenes in the sewer had me laughing for a good hour. There plenty more hilarious moments like these, but they edge into spoilers territory so I will refrain from listing all of my favorites.

A few things I thought were interesting:

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

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