Throwback Thursday: Moon Over Soho

Book cover: Moon Over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch (illustrated map of London)Credentials established, PC Peter Grant is settling into life in the Met’s supernatural policing division. But with both Lesley May and Thomas Nightingale on medical leave and corpses stacking up across Soho, how much trouble can Peter get into? ALL THE TROUBLE.

I had a vague memory of Moon Over Soho, but it’s been long enough since I read this that it was as good as coming to it for the first time (not least because that vague memory proved entirely false). The story picks up shortly after Rivers of London / Midnight Riot, with Peter Grant effectively working solo as Nightingale is still in the hospital recovering from his gunshot wound and Lesley is enduring a series of surgeries to try and repair her facial injuries.

As a freshly-minted apprentice with a reputation for causing large amounts of property damage, Peter has a few constraints to observe. But there’s a Pale Lady stalking the streets of London and now he’s sure it’s not Molly (honestly, that scene at the end of Rivers of London still makes me giggle), he needs to put a stop to her assaults – however well-earned they may be. Being a sensible man – yes, I’m being generous – he enlists the help of Ash Thames, who is having far more fun in London’s clubs than your average hostage. What can go wrong? (Yes, yes, all the things. But Peter has only the very best reasons for stealing an ambulance and crashing it into the Thames, you understand).

All good police procedurals needing more than one case to keep them going, Peter soon finds himself drawn into a second mystery: the unexpected but apparently natural deaths of otherwise healthy jazz musicians. Peter’s dad being none other than the famous Richard “Lord” Grant himself, this one is close to home – and, delightfully, means we get to dig a little deeper into Peter’s relationship with his family. With nobody around to tell him when he’s doing something stupid (and certainly not in the police handbook), it also sees Peter embroiled in an affair with the supposedly distraught mistress of one of the victims.

I’ll freely admit it: I spent large amounts of Moon Over Soho shouting PETER NO and WHAT WOULD LESLEY MAY SAY. Part of my problem here is that I can never tell how much is tongue in cheek, and how much of it is geek boy wish fulfilment. I don’t expect Peter to be a monk, but he gets into bed with a woman who in any standard murder mystery would by rights be a suspect (not to mention nothing about her adds up; he’s completely blinded by lust) – and it bothered me. A lot.

By contrast, I got to enjoy his improving relationship with DS Miriam Stephanopoulos (although: apparently it’s still necessary to make butch lesbian jokes. Grow up, Peter). While she’s as gruff as DCI Seawoll on the surface, she has considerably more latitude for the Folly and its affairs (and I live in hope that one day Peter will be comfortable enough around her not to keep up a regular stream of undermining commentary in his head).

Regardless, Peter finds himself as Stephanopoulos’s new go to man whenever a death requires someone with a nose for the unusual. The death of a former police officer leads them to the seedier side of Soho, and things take a turn for the decidedly macabre (as if the Pale Lady weren’t enough!) – with Peter finding out what you can do with impello, and discovering that there are things so terrible Nightingale won’t allowed him to see them. For the sake of his sanity. (And for which I’m grateful; Larry the Lark was quite awful enough).

While the madcap action and property damage are all entertaining (and the grim is suitably dark, even when leavened with trademark humour), the most interesting developments for me are the human ones that happen almost in passing. Peter desperately trying to be comfortable with poor Lesley. Lesley’s obvious but unspoken battle to come to terms with what has happened to her (and oh, how I love the solution she comes up with. No wallowing for Lesley May). Nightingale’s haunting past.

Nightingale has believed he’s the last of a dying kind for much of the past 50 years. He has stayed at his post guarding London out of a blend of old-fashioned honour and necessity – and also, I suspect, because he wouldn’t know what else to do with himself. Here we see him realise that he may have been wrong (the Faceless Man has been trained by somebody; Nightingale is not alone).

And at the end – but central, I suspect, to the future – we come to the question of the Folly’s ethical framework. Nightingale’s solitary splendour has meant that he has had the latitude to make the rules and to enforce them as he sees fit. In Moon Over Soho, we see Peter – raised in a very different era, and trained in a different sort of justice – question that. Peter is horribly biased – but that doesn’t make him wrong.

It’s the sort of potent stew that I can’t resist. And in spite of my grumbling about certain developments, I found the ending simultaneously affecting and a cop out. I wanted to see Peter and Nightingale finish their ethical debate.

I like that we’re increasingly seeing non-traditional supernaturals, and I’m definitely up for further examination at the ways in which they are policed. After all, Nightingale has a paramilitary death squad at his disposal and is himself capable of – well, we don’t know precisely, but fairly spectacular and immediate death dealing. Peter is slowly but surely trying to drag him into the modern era – and I’m curious to see if Nightingale can or will change; assuming, of course, that the Faceless Man gives them any breathing room to pursue Peter’s idealism.

Overall, another reliably entertaining episode in the adventures of PC Grant – although I am docking it half a star for nearly making me lose my voice with all the yelling at Peter’s terrible decisions.