Saturday, December 20, 2014

Foxglove Summer. Read even if its winter.

Foxglove Summer
Ben Aaronovitch
2014 Gollancz

Reviewed by Carol
Recommended for fans of supernatural mysteries
 ★    ★    ★    ★    1/2

I haven’t yet been able to review a Peter Grant book immediately after finishing. I suppose I’m basking in book afterglow. Once again, Aaronovitch writes an engrossing, unpredictable urban fantasy, perhaps his best yet. A good story, a generous sprinkling of dark police humor, decent police procedural all combine for a read that fully occupied my Sunday afternoon. 
Chuckles as I started:

Sarcasm about family:
“I sighed–policing would be so much easier if people didn’t have concerned relatives. The murder rate would be much lower, for one thing.”

About procedure:
‘I’m fairly certain you’re violating our human rights here,’ she said.
‘No,’ I said with the absolute certainty of a man who’d taken a moment to look up the relevant legislation before leaving home.”

About official-speak:
“I made a mental note to wheedle the list of old codgers out of Nightengale and get it properly sorted into a database. Hugh’s ‘grapevine’ might be a useful source of information. If I’d been about four ranks higher up the heirarchy I’d have regarded it as an opportunity to realise additional intelligence assets through enhanced stakeholder engagement. But I’m just a constable so I didn’t.”

Okay, maybe that’s not that funny. I thought so, but then I’m the sort to read the corporate bulletins, marveling at the abuse of language and meaning.

What I really love about Aaronovich–srsly, now–is that he brings a much looked for but seldom found level of social commentary to his urban fantasy. Grant has dark skin, and is painfully obvious out in the posh suburbs. At one point, there’s a nice little aside when he notes the casual joking racism from an officer he’s just met. He considers his normal snide comment, half laughing, half calling it out but then decides to let it go with the assumption that the officer wouldn’t even recognize the rebuke. I’m always impressed the way Aaronovich weaves multiculturalism into his tales, in the most ideal of ways: acknowledging a different cultural experience, but not fetishizing it or diminutizing the truth of the experience. Grant understands the because he is a dark-skinned copper he will end up being ‘poster boy’ for the investigation. There’s a world of cynicism, weariness and acceptance in the role he plays for the suburban police. 

Grant has his own prejudices about the country, partly because he feels so out of his element, only going into the country when required on school trips.
The air was still fresh but the sun was already sucking up the moisture from the fields and you didn’t need to be chewing on a straw to know it was going to be another hot day.”

There’s also writing that is nicely balanced between description and action, occasionally even making a foray into lyricism:
The pack [of reporters] has swept back into the village less than ten minutes after they’d left, and come boiling up the cul-de-sac like the return of a tide, licking at my heels as I ran up the path and only stopping at the hedge line because it was held by a special constable called Sally Donnahyde who was a primary school teacher in her other job and so wasn’t going to take any lip from a bunch of journalists. The kitchen was at the back of the house, but I could still here them as a restless murmur, like surf on a pebble beach.”

Oh yes, I liked the mystery, one of the most coherent storylines yet. The supernatural take is interesting, even if it comes to a somewhat familiar ending, but I appreciate the modern twist. It did trouble me somewhat that this might be a plot point that comes back to bite Peter in the butt, which led to unpleasant echoes of Dresden. But again, that’s what fairy tales and mythology is about, putting the storyteller’s spin on a cultural archetype. 

Characterization is decent, with the majority of time spent on Peter. I don’t mind; he’s an interesting, thoughtful lead. I came to like his country partner. This time, Beverly Brook’s role seemed appropriate and a little more fleshed out, if still slightly incoherent (must she always speak in riddles? must we have weird watery dalliances?) 

In a rare moment for me, I would have liked a little more punctuation; at times it takes a minute to figure out the inflection (see above quote). But that’s a stylistic quibble.

The ending, perhaps, was almost the least satisfying part of the story. Oh, don’t worry; everything wraps up nicely with no nasty cliffhangers, except that giant multi-book arc that’s going on. No, it is that the ending seemed a little too cinematic, and meant to appeal to the current UF reader, instead of being more character consistent. But that’s me, and I’d be happy to discuss below with spoiler tags.
Still, Peter Grant remains one of the most consistently satisfying UF series out there, and I remain committed to reading whatever Aaronovitch releases.

Four and a half country stars