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paranormal

Throwback Thursday: Rivers of London

Book cover: Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch (a snarkily contextual map of London, with a suggestively bloodstained West End)Easily distracted, PC Peter Grant is a probationary officer with a dull future of tedious admin ahead of him – until he takes a witness statement from a ghost in Covent Garden and finds himself recruited into the Met’s little-advertised supernatural division…

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Bite-size Books: Witches of Lychford

Book cover: Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell (3 silhouettes walking down a misty avenue, in sepia tones)A sleepy Cotswold town faces an existential threat: a major supermarket wishes to open on the outskirts. But this is more than just a vexing question of planning permission that will set neighbour against neighbour. This is a threat to the very fabric of reality. At least, that’s what Judith says.

I must not read this as a Brexit metaphor

London Falling: more supernatural crime in the capital

Book cover: London Falling - Paul Cornell (a flaming pentagram above a night-time London skyline)When a suspect is murdered in custody, DI James Quill is determined to solve the case. His small but dedicated squad soon find themselves chasing a supernatural opponent neither they – nor their procedures – are remotely equipped to deal with. Can they conquer their fear and bring her to justice?

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Seanan McGuire – Midnight Blue-Light Special

I am making up for all that Literary Consideration by jumping into the second volume of the Incryptid series, Midnight Blue-Light Special. I am amused to report that being an urban fantasy potboiler it has no literary merit whatsoever, and I am enjoying it enormously. Double thumbs-up to , given that I don't typically touch urban fantasy with a bargepole (because the accompanying paranormal romance usually gives me hives).

Here Verity Price, would-be ballroom dancer and full-time monster saviour, continues her quest to keep New York City safe from her (entirely human) boyfriend and his intense gang of monster hunters. Can Verity persuade the Incryptid population of New York to hide from the marauding Covenant of St George? Can her boyfriend stop them finding her and cutting her to ribbons as the antagonistic descendant of an unforgotten cult traitor? Will the skirts get shorter? Can the snark get sillier? Yes, obviously, all around. I'll admit to not enjoying this quite as much as the first instalment, but it was still solidly entertaining.

A few minor quibbles:

– the sudden obsession with informing us of monster dress sizes – in Book 1 they were drop-dead gorgeous; in Book 2 we need to know that doesn't mean size 2 – which I can only assume reflects an online spat about the book covers (both of which feature dinky Verity exposing her midriff and/or legs). I love the touch that big is beautiful, but it wasn't subtle, so it felt like a pointed aside rather than an integral part of the narrative.

– the orchestrated snark levels reached a point where most of the conversations stopped feeling real – Istas in particular is awfully scripted, and the effect doesn't really gel with the Gothic Lolita Inuit shapeshifting carnivore.

– the lack of a shift in tone of voice when we briefly acquired a new narrator. Sarah may have been raised by the Bakers, but she's a profoundly different person to Verity. Not that you can tell from her inner voice. She's also fascinating in her own right, but we get a better view of this through Verity's eyes than through her own, which is a bit weird, frankly.

None of these distracted too much though – this is silly fun pulp, and I'm not going to be too exacting about literary prowess – so the overall package was just what I was after.

***1/2

Lloyd Shepherd – The English Monster

I've had this on my Kindle shelf a long while. It's a curious novel of two stories: in Elizabethan England, young Billy Ablass goes to sea to make his fortune alongside an equally young Francis Drake; and in 1811, London is rocked by the vicious murders of a household in Shadwell (the historical Ratcliff Highway murders). Billy's innocent eyes are opened to the grim realities of colonial exploitation; while Constable Horton adopts the then-novel approach of investigating a crime rather than finding a scapegoat.

For much of the novel it is unclear what these tales have to do with one another, but each are engrossing enough. Shepherd largely succeeds in spinning a good yarn (or indeed two) with intriguing characters – this is an easy enough read that's well enough written.

However, I found the final collision of the two storylines somewhat dissatisfying. Having spent much time with constable Horton admiring his investigative ambitions, it was a shame he was undermined by the PRS simply handing over the killer's identity on a plate. It rendered his efforts meaningless and with replaced a satisfying outcome with some fumbling violence in the dark. Similarly, the fate of Billy Ablass was a little underwhelming – the dire warnings of the Florida tribe seemed to imply much worse.

There are other missed opportunities: Francis Drake is little more than an unnecessary bit of flair, as is Henry Morgan, and the business with the Sheerness mutiny felt like it might have a more philosophical purpose than the rather blunt plot instrument it ultimately became.

I think this last point is my main beef with the book. It's an interesting glimpse into the Elizabethan slave trade and the pre-Peel policing of London, but I felt the author flirted with a more thoughtful piece on humanity, morality and mortality than he served up.

Edit: I didn't have any context when I picked this up, so it seemed to over-promise and under-deliver. Now I know it's the first in a string of slightly paranormal mysteries investigated by Constable Horton and Magistrate Harriott, I find I'm less judgmental. As an example of paranormal potboiler crime (rather than a genre-flirting literary outing), it was entertaining – although my reservations about the climax remain intact and it doesn't gain extra stars. However, I thought I should note that I would consider reading those further instalments 🙂

***1/2

Reading roundup

At the risk of becoming a book blog, musings on the rest of my January reading.

snowdrops, interpreters, magicians

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