I've been aware of Ben Aaronovitch's books for a few years, based on some good noises coming out of the blogosphere, but also due to their very distinctive covers. I hadn't been purposely avoiding them, but I also hadn't made any effort to pick one up. It might be the London-focus that perhaps inadvertently didn't draw me to them (I live in the North-West UK so geographically and culturally quite far from London in UK standards).
I follow Ben on Twitter (@Ben_Aaronovitch), and I saw a tweet a few weeks ago saying that the first of his "Rivers of London" series was available for Kindle for 99p. I'd just finished my previous read, so trotted over to Amazon and picked it up.
[some mild spoilers of plot to follow, but I'll be as careful as I can]
Rivers of London (RoL) is essentially a police procedural novel set in modern day London. It focusses on our hero Peter Grant, a young copper in the Met, and how following the end of his probationary period he ends up working not within the cool and trendy Murder Squad, but instead for DCI Thomas Nightingale who heads up a one-man secret division. The crunch comes when it becomes clear that Nightingale is not some ordinary plod, but actually a 120 year old magician who is responsible for policing the fantastical, magical and occult aspects of city life. Ghosts are real, as are spirits, magic spells and all manner of imps, vampires and karmic connections. The story takes us through the origin story of Peter and DCI Nightingale, their base of operations "The Folly", Toby the dog, and Molly the vampire maid, and sets up what seems to be a great set of stories to follow in later books.
I saw someone call these books "Harry Potter for grown-ups", but I disagree; there is magic and fantasy elements, but this is more Ashes to Ashes territory; Aaronovitch has a great knack for sharp and witty banter between his characters, and putting the magical elements to one side, it reads just like any other solid Procedural. There's an amusing take on modern-day policing methods, as well as Peter Grant's own inadequacies and worries, which are all very well observed and delivered.
I found the pacing to be a bit varied throughout the book and found myself flicking (virtually, of course) back to previous sections to remind myself of what had happened, but the story itself was interesting and well thought out. I certainly started to like both the main and secondary characters, and there seems tons and tons of material that the author can draw on for subsequent outings. The fact that this was very much a book focussed on London didn't detract from my enjoyment; I didn't feel left out not knowing the intricate detail and history of all of the places and events described, and even learned something along the way.
I really enjoyed this book, and I think I'll give the second instalment, Moon Over Soho, a go soon. I Wikipedia'd this before writing and was pleased to see that Aaronovitch had received a nomination for Best New Writer of the Year for this book in 2011.
It is published by Gollancz, with Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground and Broken Homes also now available. The fifth instalment, Foxglove Summer, is due to be released in September 2014.