Reviewed by Carol
Recommended for: fans of urban fantasy police procedural
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If you've read any other Broken Homes reviews or checked out the range of ratings, you'll know that opinion on this book runs the gamut. For me, Aaronovich is starting to feel like he is coming into his own. It's mature, developed writing with rich characters and a thoughtfully developed magic and supernatural system. Without doubt, pacing is a little off from a traditional detective story, but I found that for me, it reflected the inconsistent nature of real-life police work; one does not work a case to the exclusivity of all others, and sometimes the pieces are slow to fit into place. The result is a plot that is a little more "day in the life" until it gestalts together at the end, but was an enjoyable tour on the way. If you want nicely sophisticated characters, sly humor and an insider's view to England, this is an excellent installment in a quality urban fantasy detective series.
The summary: Peter and Leslie are at the Folly, developing their magic skills and researching an Oxford University dining club group that was learning magic a couple of decades ago. Research is interrupted when they're called to an unusual car accident that resulted in one of the driver's deaths. Blood in the back seat leads them to another dead body--strangely missing a face. It sets off vague internal alarms, but with nothing clear to go on, Peter continues on with his mandatory Officer Safety training. As someone who was required to attend annual recertifications every year, I found his asides on the usual dry dust mandatory topics to be snort-worthy:
"The morning lecture was on stop and search with reference to spotting suspicious behavior... he did warn us to make an exception for tourists, because London needed the foreign currency."
There's a sidebar with a River summit and a cameo with the Folly cadet, giving more insight into the complicated nature of supernatural politics. At one point in the case, Peter and Leslie go undercover at an estate (project housing), giving a very unique glimpse from a police perspective into the local human denizens.
"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."
I was really enjoying the mischievous, dry wit until about page 200 or so when Aaronvitch started to become quite serious. The wit was still there, but more sly, less frequent, letting the reader focus on the impact of the story. I found it refreshing; although I love a snarky remark, at a certain point, they become incongruent with the emotion of the story.
Honestly, I can't say enough. I love Aaronvich's tone and style. I love that his dogs are dogs, but are still amusing; that Peter is not an anti-hero, and as wry as he is, still believes in loyalty and justice; that Peter doesn't describe all women in terms of sexability, just the one(s) he wants to have sex with; that magic isn't easy; that magic is part of an ambient system living all around us; that Peter is self-depreciating as much as he chaffs others. Add to it that unlike most UF books, the police are not bumbling idiots or obstructive foils, and you have a UF detective read with a very different flavor.
I think it is also worth noting that these books have high re-read potential. Ilona Andrews recently noted "a writer can teach the readers pretty much anything through the narrative, but the lower is that starting threshold, the wider is the audience." Aaronovich doesn't handhold the reader, resulting in a higher threshold. He uses London slang, British police vocabulary, architectural terms and stories that are heavily influenced by local geography. Yet, I feel so satisfied after reading his works. This ending especially was a gobsmacker. I wouldn't call it a cliff-hanger, exactly, since I'm pretty confident in his characterizations. I think Aaronovich's tv roots are showing, and it's more of a titillating lead-in to the next installment. There's a reason I've made an effort to get the series in hardcover--I want them around for a long time.
"Arts and Antiques, definitely not known by the rest of the Met as the Arts and Crafts squad, occasionally recover an item so valuable that even the evidence storage locker in the middle of New Scotland Yard isn't secure enough."
"I said she could have a look around the fair as long as she didn't talk to any strange people.
'Okay,' she said.
'Or strange things,' I said.
'Whatever,' she said and skipped off.
'Or strange things that are also people,' I called after her."
"'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."