Throwback Thursday: Broken Homes

Book cover: Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch (bloodstained London streetmap in yellow and red)Peter’s early adventures in architecture finally stand him in good stead as the Isaacs try to figure out the magical ambitions of a long-dead German architect. Meanwhile the Faceless Man is back in town, and he has an alarming (and rather fabulous) new ally…

Broken Homes is an interesting beast. Like Whispers Underground, it features a lot of proper policing – the first quarter is a smorgasbord of disparate crimes with no obvious links, and much driving from one site to another in search of meagre clues (and if I have any nits to pick, it’s that these all become relevant in passing, but never really get tidied away – they just stop being important). But when it picks up, it picks right up – and unlike Whispers, that means an explosive finale that left me reeling.

And I’ve read it before and knew what was coming.


But I get ahead of myself. As usual, we get a helping of grue (quite a large helping this time out), a side serve of spectacle (I spent most of the Rivers’ feast at Bernie Spain’s Gardens convinced Something Would Go Down; but stressful or not, it was a fabulous event), a brilliant new antagonist in the shape of Russian Night Witch Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, and a timely reminder of just what Thomas ‘Tiger Tank’ Nightingale is capable of.

Is it just me that is mildly (and somewhat unexpectedly) shipping those two? I think it was her frank admiration of his skills, but also the fact I’d quite like to see Nightingale in disarray. The scene where he dismantles a farm and strides out of the wreckage straightening his cufflinks is unapologetic Bond mayhem; and while I think jumping into bed with a Night Witch is probably a terrible idea (especially one as powerful and clever as Varvara), a tousled Nightingale and a disapproving Molly tickles my fancy.

I have a real soft spot for fiction that knows its location as well as I do, allowing me to visualise exactly where the action is taking place. Aaronovitch does good London, so the only thing that made me blink was the insertion of the Skygarden Tower for the Heygate Estate (mostly famous to non-Londoners as a key location in Attack the Block). I quickly forgave him, because the concept is fab, but I have mixed feelings about the sequences at Skygarden.

On the one hand, there’s an awful lot of red herrings / local colour – on the other, Aaronovitch never quite made me believe he knows his council estate. It’s a bit off the peg (as are its residents), and Peter’s attitude to it sometimes felt rather snobbishly middle class for a young man who grew up on estate not that dissimilar to it.

However, I fell fast and hard for the magical garden at the centre of it, and for its resident nymph. It all seemed highly unlikely, and I loved the juxtaposition of something so very magical as a wood nymph with something so very mundane as high density brutalist living quarters.

I’m still really rather angry about Sky.

…which brings us to Lesley May. Broken Homes gives us a Lesley who seems to have grown prickly and increasingly distant. Even knowing what was coming, her actions at the end took me by surprise; on a re-read, the clues are liberally scattered throughout – but subtly enough that they could be leading in several directions.

I’m left with the strong need to find out where this plot goes next – so I’ll be rocketing on to Foxglove Summer (where I’m promised the return of Beverly Brook – no doubt still irritated by Peter’s complete lack of follow-through on his obvious attraction. Tut, Peter. Tut).

I commented at the end of Whispers that it felt like Peter was growing up – Broken Homes builds on this with a shift in tone. Certainly it still has a sense of humour, but it is (for the most part) less flippant. The gears have shifted as the stakes increase, and I like the narrative all the better for it.