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324 pages, Mass Market Paperback
First published February 4, 2013
"This book is dedicated to all the people who get up and do something about it, whatever “it” is and however small the thing it is they do."With this perfect dedication, Broken Homes - the fourth entry in Ben Aaronovitch's series about a snarky, geeky and ultimately good London Police Constable Peter Grant, employed in the subdivision of the Metropolitan police focused on magical side of the society - hit the high note from the very beginning and remained very good until the last page.
"I’d love to stick some high vestigia material into a mass spectrometer, but first I’d have to get myself a mass spectrometer and then I’d have to learn enough physics to interpret the bloody results."Second is the unbelievably vivid atmosphere of the streets and buildings of architecturally beautiful multicultural London, described so lovingly and fully that even this non-Londoner reader feels that she just took a stroll along the Thames. Speaking of the Thames - I finally decided to search for a map with all the 'lost' rivers of London, mostly tributaries of the Thames that had long ago been converted to underground rivers. And read quite a bit about Heygate Estate which provided inspiration for Skygarden Estate in this book.
"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."Peter Grant books avoid the common pitfall of so many stories that feature anyone with supernatural abilities: the immediate disregard of anyone not magical and resulting complete despising of police force as little but clueless buffoons good for nothing except for throwing obstacles in the way of the heroes. It's not so in Peter Grant series. Police force are the competent people who are perfectly capable of working side by side with their slightly more supernaturally inclined colleagues, even if it means creating just a tad more paperwork than planned.
"So I waited in the porch and wrote up my notes. I have two sets, the ones that go in my Moleskine and the slightly edited ones that go into my official Met issue book. This is very bad procedure, but sanctioned because there are some things the Met doesn’t want to know about officially. In case it might upset them."These stories also not only feature a wide array of non-white characters (as would be appropriate in a city as multicultural as London), but have quite unique in our literature approach of actually integrating race in the story, casually mentioning race in the description of many white characters, thus subverting the unspoken rule that only non-white characters' race needs to be specified since white is the assumed default. No, here race is just one of the descriptors, applied to white people as well, and that reads very refreshing and common-sense.
"See, I thought as I waited for the lift, someone tries to kill you and suddenly you’re all cautious."Peter Grant ("I could have used my magical abilities to get a closer look, but instead I used the zoom function on my phone"), Lesley May ("[... ] whose attitude toward 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") and Thomas Nightingale ("Nightingale gave me the same long-suffering look he gives me when I accidentally blow up fire extinguishers, fall asleep while he’s talking, or fail to conjugate my Latin verbs") are pursuing their leads to uncover the identity and the associates of the mysterious and dangerous Faceless Man while solving a few murders, a theft, establishing a connection of a sink estate to all of this and policing a supernatural deity fair - all while trying their best to stay alive and caught up with paperwork.
“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.”It starts with the usual lighthearted humor full of witty banter, but somewhere around the halfway mark the tone becomes more and more serious as Skygarden becomes the primary investigative location, and not only social issues are raised to the surface with apt social commentary (for instance, the struggle of the mostly poor inhabitants of the estate taking up space that could have been used for something infinitely more lucrative) but also the long-standing character tensions come to light, including Lesley's painful struggle to live with her 'ruined' face and the toll it takes on her - sometimes too subtle for Peter to actually see.
"Sometimes, when you turn up on their doorstep, people are already expecting bad news. Parents of missing kids, partners that have heard about the air crash on the news— you can see it in their faces— they’ve braced themselves. And there’s a strange kind of relief, too. The waiting is over, the worst has happened and they know that they will ride it out. Some don’t, of course. Some go mad or fall into depression or just fall apart. But most soldier through.-----
But sometimes they haven’t got a clue and you arrive on their doorstep like god’s own sledgehammer and smash their life to pieces. You try not to think about it, but you can’t help wondering what it must be like.
Now I knew."
Using magic has a very specific limitation. If you overdo it your brain turns into Swiss cheese. Hyperthaumaturgical degradation, Dr. Walid calls it, and he has some brains in a drawer which he whips out at the slightest excuse to show young apprentices.Dr. Walid is the medical examiner who looks at "unusual" corpses for the vestigia that the use of magic leaves behind--on bodies, on objects, and in places. Magic in Peter's world is something that Sir Isaac Newton invented (or systematized), and Nightingale works with Newton's secret treatise, written in Latin--which is why all the magic words are Latin. Peter explains
You do magic by learning formae which are like shapes in your mind that have an effect on the physical universe. As you learn each one you associate it with a word, in Latin...You make it so that the word and the forma become one in your mind.This time around the three-person team is working more effectively than ever, and we see a bit more of Nightingale in person as they tackle a set of cases that leads them into direct contact at last with the Faceless Man, a mysterious and evil magic-wielder who's been in the background till now. The action gravitates toward a public housing project (an estate in British terms) that includes a remarkable high rise and brings up the fascinating issue of magic embedded in architecture.
This book is for you if… you haven’t had the problems I always had with this series.
‘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.’
“Perfectly human monsters, everyone of them.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”