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303 pages, Mass Market Paperback
First published June 21, 2012
"Was it better to die in happy ignorance or terrified knowledge? The answer, if you’re a Londoner, is that it’s better not to die at all."This series does what most urban fantasies avoid¹ - it seamlessly integrates the 'urban' and the 'fantastical' parts, creating a lovely well-crafted enjoyable reading experience that remains grounded in reality, with just the right touch of whimsy to keep it moving along, *nothing to see here*. (Don't you just loooove my pathetic attempts at police humor? Wait until I come up with some cops/donuts jokes, really!)
¹ When I think of my favorite magic-meets-real-world stories, the overpowering focus is always on the magical bits - after all, isn't that what makes them exciting? The books I'm thinking about include the Dresden books, Gaiman's Neverwhere, all the Harry Potter books (by the way, one of the covers for this book includes the blurb of it being a blend of CSI and Harry Potter, cue the eyeroll from me), and even the much-disliked by me Miéville's Kraken.*
It gave me “the eye”— the fearsome gaze that sheepdogs use to keep their charges in line. But I gave it “the look”— the stare that policemen use to keep members of the public in a state of randomized guilt.But with the exception of employing Peter Grant of the Folly (the London-based magical crime squad that as of this book has been expanded to full *THREE* members!), the police approach to investigating a suspicious murder of a young American university student in the depths of London Underground has very little of magical wand-waving and very much of old-fashioned suspect-questioning, report-writing, and the down-and-dirty (in this book, pretty much literally) exploration of the less savory part of the city, including but not limited to London sewers. (Yes, this book gives you quite a literal look at what you can refer to as London's underbelly. Experience comes complete with the description of the feces-tinged smell as a side bonus).
In all honesty, magic itself in this series is actually quite *grounded* as well - very rational and scientific from what we've seen so far, which is reflected in the frequent comparisons that Peter Grant draws between it and science:In the same vein, Peter Grant is first and foremost a twenty-something London policeman and a guy well-versed in popular culture with its niches for nerdiness-loving souls, and only secondarily an apprentice wizard with propensity for treating magic as a branch of science that ought to be experimented with (to the utmost chagrin of his old-fashioned
"So just chalk it up to pixie dust or quantum entanglement, which was the same thing as pixie dust except with the word “quantum” in it."
"Low sample size— one of the reasons why magic and science are hard to reconcile."
"Now, you could literally fill two whole libraries, complete with card files, reference sections, and a brass ladder thing that whooshes around on rails with everything I don’t know about magic."I've talked a lot about my eternal love for Peter Grant and his nerdy dorky brand of dry and frequently self-deprecating humor that shines on every single page of this book and, believe it or not, never feels out of place. And I will say it again - it is the hilarious and smart narrative voice that makes these books truly shine.
"That was Seawoll," she said. "Stephanopoulos is on her way down and you’re not to do anything stupid until she gets here."Let me give you some examples of the humor that made me laugh out loud in the hospital cafeteria while I was stealing a few precious minutes to read while stocking up on the life-saving caffeinated drinks to sustain my brain through the endless hospital shift hours (and these sudden outbursts of giggles probably caused a fair share of confused looks from some of my patients who were momentarily distracted from responding to their substance-fueled internal stimuli by my sheer joy).
You burn down one central London tourist attraction, I thought, and they never let you forget it.
"You’re so boring," she said. "You’d think a copper who was a wizard would be more interesting. Harry Potter wasn’t this boring. I bet Gandalf could drink you under the table."As any book featuring wizarding apprentices, this one, of course, cannot be complete without featuring our heroes' magical mentors - I mean, how can one do without one? You know the types - the grey-haired bearded wizened sages (think your average Gandalf and Dumbledore here) that give all kinds of wisdom-infused life-saving advice. Like this, coming from Peter's mentor Nightingale:
Probably true, but I don’t remember the bit where Hermione gets so wicked drunk that Harry has to pull the broomstick over on Buckingham Palace Road just so she can be sick in the gutter.
"This should give you some protection from a fireball while you stage a tactical withdrawal." By which he meant run like fuck.There is cultural awareness here, which helps us, the non-British folk, learn things about, well, the British folk. And while we're at it, about the British folk that comprises Britain's police force. Which, I think, differs quite a bit from the image we are fed by the shows like CSI and stuff, complete with the gun-wielding determined and grim dudes and dudettes wearing cool clothes and flashing their badges in a very professional way.
“Nightingale turned up,” she said. “He was hoping to shout at you a bit to show his affection in a gruff manly and safely nongay way but you were asleep so he just sort of milled around for a while and then off he went.”
"Me and Lesley, being both English and police, managed to avoid any outward sign of the massive sense of relief we felt."Funny aside, this book had a few quite touching (although, thankfully, never sappy) moments between Peter and Lesley - the moments underscoring the old sincere friendship that the two used to share and that they seem to be restoring as they both become more used to the damage Lesley sustained over the course of the first book in the series. I cherished these moments of banter and bonding and some (almost unexpected for not always mature Peter) moments of touching adult sadness:
"Leave the police alone in a room for five minutes and we start looking in drawers, locked or otherwise. It's a terrible habit."
And one of my favorites, regarding the difference between the "official police speak" and the normal way of expressing things (and I'm not stranger myself to using big words to convey a simple thing in my profession):
Thus, “We did a joint evaluation of video evidence encompassing all possible access points in conjunction with BTP and CLP, and despite widening the parameters of our assessment to include registered and nonregistered cameras in the high probability zones, we have as yet to achieve a positive identification of James Gallagher prior to his appearance at Baker Street” becomes: “We’ve checked every CCTV camera in the system and it’s as if the fucker beamed down from the Starship Enterprise.”
"It wasn’t until I looked away that I realized I’d read her expression off her bare face without reacting to what her face had become."All in all, this series is very much worth picking up. It will not be a life-changing experience, but it will provide a few hours of happily chuckling at the well-written humorous narrative - and sometimes that is all you need. 4 stars and impatient foot-tapping in the wait for the next book in the series.
“You find out that magic and spirits and ghosts are all real,” she said. “And you’re just fine with that? You just accept it?” “It helps that I’ve got a scientific brain,” I said. “How can that possibly help?” “I met a ghost face-to-face,” I said with more calmness than I’d felt at the time. “It would have been stupid to pretend it didn’t exist.”------
Lesley stuck her head through the door, spotted us and came in. "Have you seen how much that man can eat?"
"He is a halfling," I said, which just got me blank looks from the pair of them.
“Holy paranormal activity, Nightingale – to the Jag mobile”
“Not for them the detective's gut instinct or the intricate logical deductions of a sleuth savant. No, what the Met likes to do is throw a shitload of manpower at the problem and run down every single possible lead until it is exhausted, the murderer is caught, or the senior investigator dies of old age. As a result, murder investigations are conducted not by quirky Detective Inspectors with drink/relationship/mental problems but a bunch of frighteningly ambitious Detective Constables in the first mad flush of their careers.
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.
"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."
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."
"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.
'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.’
"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.