Review: Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: March 24 to April 3, 2014
Read count: 2

Just pre-ordered the next book (Foxglove Summer), 3 months in advance. No book series has ever motivated me to do that before.

First off, that revelation at the end just as everything was falling to pieces, that was perfect timing. So perfect it left me a little winded tbqh. Well done, Mr. Aaronovitch. You’ve successfully made me jump out of my seat while waiting at the DMV. That’s no easy feat because it was the DMV, the whole place was packed, and I was standing.

This isn’t a review so much as just me using this space as a concept board. So onward with it already?

“Perfectly human monsters, everyone of them.”

Nightingale to Peter when asked whether or not serial killers were of the magical persuasion*. This line alone sums up the foundation of the book.

Strange things are still happening in and around London, although this time they’re stranger than the usual disturbances. The plot sort of picks up where the previous book left off, and familiar characters make brief appearances to help Peter and Lesley as they unravel a mystery that doesn’t look all that mysterious on the surface. We see the young and curious Abigail again, this time for extended periods of the plot. Sergeant Kumar of the underground turns up to hand over a crucial piece of the puzzle. The mysterious Zach also drops by to hang out with Peter and Lesley. Beverly Brook, whom I thought had been forgotten, and her River sisters make some appearances only to disappear again.

There’s a good amount of self-deprecating humor and outright hilarious moments in this book, but all of it take a back seat to the perfect timing ending mentioned above. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, though it does leave a lot up in the air.

Unlike the previous three, I thought the title for this book lacked a sense of poetic mystery. Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground–oddly lyrical titles for urban fantasy mysteries, wouldn’t you say? And Foxglove Summer? Sounds sweet, if a bit twee. Even Midnight Riot (the US title for Rivers of London) promises mystery and an adventure. Broken Homes, in contrast, seems sad and straight-forward. Out of character compared to the rest of the series, and then that ending busted out of the rubble and now everything makes sense. I didn’t realize how well the title tied everything together until that very moment. And what an explosive ending that was. I’m still brooding over it.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

It wouldn’t be an Aaronovitch book without quotable moments. Here are some of my favorites:

Door bells are mysterious things

We heard a distant ringing noise that confused everyone until we recognised the Folly’s front door bell. We all exchanged looks until it was established that since I wasn’t intrinsically supernatural, a chief inspector or required to put on a mask before meeting the public I was nominated door opener in chief.

Peter Grant’s deep-seeded cop-ness showing through

It’s a police mantra that all members of the public are guilty of something, but some members of the public are more guilty than others.

[…]

I know trouble when it’s below the age of criminal responsibility, and while my first instinct was to arrest his parents on general principles, I gave him a cheery wave instead. He gave me a blankly suspicious look before whipping his head out of sight.

[…]

Everyone consents to the police. It’s just the operational priorities they argue about.

[…]

“That which does not kill us,” I said, “has to get up extra early in the morning if it wants to get us next time.”

[…]

He must have carefully calculated it against his own weight, but with mine added he feel dangerously fast. I made sure that I was the one right him down–thinking heavy thoughts.

Nightingale, contrary to popular beliefs, does have an exasperation point

“I don’t think he takes me as seriously as he should,” Nightingale told Dr. Walid. “He still slopes off to conduct illicit experiments whenever he thinks I’m not looking.” He looked at me. “What is your latest interest?”
“I’ve been looking at how long various materials retain vestigia,” I said.
“How do you measure the intensity of the vestigia?” asked Dr. Walid.
“He uses the dog,” said Nightingale.

Lesley scores some points in her favor

“They’re probably waiting for one of us to get freeze dried,” said Lesley, whose attitude towards taser deployment was that people with heart conditions, epilepsy and an aversion to electrocution should not embark upon breaches of the peace in the first place.

The infallible Zach of mysterious origins confirming what we’ve all suspected at one time or another

“My granddad said he was bonkers,” said Zach.
“Sherlock Holmes?” asked Lesley.
“Arthur Conan Doyle,” said Zach.
The strip vanished under the door of a garage sealed with a County Gard steel plate and another shiny padlock.
“You want to get this?” I asked Zach.
Zach pulled a pick from his jeans pocket and went to work. “Started seeing fairies and ghosts and talking to dead people,” he said still going on about Conan Doyle as the padlock came apart in his hands.
“But there are fairies and ghosts,” said Lesley. “I met them down the pub–you introduced me.”
“Yeah, but he used to see them when they weren’t there.” said Zach. “Which is practically the definition of bonkers.”

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* * * * HUGE spoilers below * * * *

* Of humans and monsters

I’m surprised in the time Peter spent under Nightingale’s tutelage–almost two years now–that the subject of serial killers and their possible connections to magic never came up and that the two of them never had a serious discussion about high-profile murder investigations that might or might not have involved magic or magical beings. These things would have been the first inquiries I’d bring up if I were in Peter’s place. I’d also bring up other high-profile unsolved mysteries. I’d want to know which cases were of the magical inclination and which were not, just to have an idea of what to expect in the future.

In Nightingale’s defense, high-profile cases that involved magic get buried quickly by the magical division of law enforcement and thus never make it to the media, as he explained early on in the book. In Peter’s defense, he’s always been a “fly by the seat of his pants” kind of investigator. So it probably never occurred to him to ask for briefings of past controversial investigations. He’s the type to figure things out as he goes along, as we see time and again. But for a character who has a background in architecture and extensive knowledge of London’s past and present history, it seems odd that Peter never showed any inclinations to dig further into the Folly.

Wizard-in-training extraordinaire

Peter Grant is still very much his snarky, smart-ass self, but there are signs that he’s grown up a lot with each book. Previous experiences and exposures to the strangeness of London have changed him; for the better, I think.  For one, his control of magic has improved to the point where he can actually control light, fire, water, and force fields without blowing anything or anyone up. For another, his characteristic sense of humor now has a slightly darker undertone. Memories from previous books that affected him deeply make their way into his every day life. I like that they’re brought up now and again, instead of being completely brushed aside and forgotten, in that self-assured style of most urban fantasies these days. I have a feeling Peter is headed toward a breaking point, and things are gonna get ugly really fast. Losing either Nightingale or Lesley will push him off the edge. Since it’s been established that Peter’s a special kind of magical being and his connection to London is only the tip of the iceberg, his breaking point could mean total destruction for London.

Questions about Molly of the Folly

If she doesn’t talk, how does she answer the phone or the door? How does she manage Nightingale’s other domestic affairs? There have been a few instances where she had to answer the phone or the door, but she does it off scene. Not knowing how she manages these things, for some reason, hadn’t bothered me until this book. And these little things tend to bother me quite a bit. It might have bothered me sooner had the previous three books not been so engaging. Aaronovitch has managed to use compelling storytelling skills as misdirection. Once again, well done. But I still like to know how Molly answers the phone or the door in her peculiar way.

Clever foreshadowing or just a red herring?

Lesley lost her whole face–her beautiful face, according to Peter–to magic and only magic can restore it to what it once had been, or so she thinks, as it was promised to her. Her betrayal adds a very interesting dimension to the current narrative. I think it gives her more personality, and strangely enough, I find her characterization much more compelling and sympathetic now that I’ve had time to think it over from her POV.

Throughout the series, Peter makes repeated references to Lesley’s face and how after all these months spent working close together he’s only just adjusting to the sight of it, both masked and unmasked. The details in each of his descriptions of Lesley are casual but succinct, enough to remind himself (and the reader) of the trauma from Rivers of London while coaching himself to simply deal with the scars–look at them, acknowledge them, get used to seeing them. These reminders were obvious foreshadowing leading to the taser incident. I should have recognized them for what they are–the foundation for betrayal.

Which brings me to both Nightingale’s and Peter’s passing hints that Nightingale might not live through a head-on confrontation with the Faceless Creep. Which then brings me back to Peter’s breaking point.

There’s a whole lot of interesting development ahead, and I look forward to all of it.

* * * * *

I’d like to thank Will Martin of the Penguin Group for sending me a copy to enjoy.

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