Sunday 8 May 2011

Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

I was my dad's vinyl-wallah: I changed his records while he lounged around drinking tea, and that's how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And it's why, when Dr Walid called me to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing. Something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint like a wax cylinder recording. Cyrus Wilkinson, part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant, had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. He wasn't the first. No one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene. I didn't trust the lovely Simone, Cyrus' ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens' portrait, but I needed her help: there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives. And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard 'Lord' Grant - my father - who managed to destroy his own career, twice. That's the thing about policing: most of the time you're doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you're doing it for justice. And maybe once in a career, you're doing it for revenge.

My To Be Read pile is so tall at the moment that it is not often I make time to read a book written for adults these days, although this is a state of affairs that I am working hard to remedy. However, when Moon Over Soho arrived, sent by the ever generous Jon Weir at Gollancz, it was as if that TBR pile no longer existed, and I dropped everything to read it. I loved Rivers of London, the first book in Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy trilogy (please, please let this become a series of more than three books), when I read it back in January and I have been waiting eagerly for this sequel ever since, just as I am now piing to read book three, Whispers Under Ground, due to be published in November. Ben Aaronovitch and Gollancz really know how to spoil their readers!

With three books scheduled for publishing in the same year, a small part of me was concerned as to whether the author would be able to maintain the quality he had so skilfully delivered in Rivers of London. I had absolutely nothing to fear at all - Moon Over Soho is easily as good as its predecessor, but with added jazz. I can't claim to be any kind of jazz officiando, but my love of music is second only to my love of books, and I find jazz to be one of the most magical of genres. For me it therefore made the perfect accompaniment to the magic that permeates through London in this story.

The plot of Rivers of London picks up not long after the close of the first book in the series. Peter Grant magical abilities are slowly improving, thanks to the hours of practice he his forced to do by his superior, Inspector Nightingale, whist the latter is forced to take things easy following the injuries he sustained in their previous case. PC Lesley May is also currently on long-term leave, living with her parents in Brightlingsea, as she begins to recover and come to terms with the disfigurement she suffered in that same book. Without his mentor and his closest colleague around to keep an eye on him it was only going to be a matter of time before Peter found himself in some kind of trouble, and before too long he finds himself up to his neck in it.... racing a stolen ambulance through London at night; getting romantically involved with a potential witness; to name but a couple of incidents that would so many young officers booted off the force.

Rivers of London was quite heavy on the details of police procedure, an element that I know some readers felt got in the way of the story, although I found it a really interesting aspect of the story. Moon Over Soho is far more story driven, with the nitty gritty of police work taking more of a back seat, although the author does instead treat us to a plethora of facts about jazz music (no bad thing in my mind) as Peter is drawn into a case where he deduces that someone is killing off the city's jazz musicians by draining the life out of them, a killer he christens the "jazz vampire".

Moon Over Soho is a truly fun read, although it is somewhat darker than its predecessor, and it is also very much an adult book. There are are number of sexual scenes in the story that make it unsuitable for younger teens, and there is also a handful of particularly gory moments. However, older teens who love fantasy and are already moving onto adult books will love it.