Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Published July 31st 2012 by Del Rey
Review by N.E. White.
Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch is the third book in his urban fantasy series featuring our plucky, magical main character, Peter Grant. SFFWorld.com has reviewed the first (here), and the second book review is coming soon, but why do them in order? I’ve just finished the third, so I’ll hit you with that one first. While barely continuing the main plot of the series, Whispers Under Ground tells the story of an unfortunate American murdered in London’s infamous Tube (subway system) and the discovery of The Quiet People.
The story begins with a ghost, of course. An offbeat, neighborhood kid named Abigail has found a ghost living in an old tunnel beneath her school. She decides to tell Peter, whom she knows deals with “weird magic stuff”. Together with his partner, Leslie May, whose face fell off in the first book, the three head on down to investigate. Mr. Aaronovitch sets the book’s mood with this opening scene, and while not the focus of the book, we learn a bit about the magic Peter can wield and the new, tenuous relationship he has forged with his new magic-constable partner, Leslie.
Then mayhem makes its customary appearance when Peter is called to check out a murder at the Baker Street Underground station. The crime scene has some ties to the magical, so Peter, Leslie and their boss, Nightingale, are on the case. Working in conjunction with the normal police units, Peter gets a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his superiors, but not for very long. As in the books preceding this one, Peter manages to get in over his head (pun intended) and learns more about sewers and pigs than he cares for. But that’s all in the line of duty, and by the end of the books, he manages to impress Leslie, and maybe even his bosses, too.
At the end of this book, The Faceless Man, Peter’s arch-nemesis, still has them on the run, but clues are coming together and I suspect a grand, explosive match-up between the two in the next book. Whispers Under Ground ends back with Abigail, who’s still causing trouble with her underground ghost. Peter takes her under his wing, so to speak, and inducts her into what will undoubtedly become the first of many recruits.
As is customary of this series, the reader is in for an educational treat on the history of one of London’s neighborhoods, and police procedurals. In this case, we get a peek into the BTP (British Transport Police) and the underground system that is vast and just might include secret tunnels and a race we’ve never seen before. Maybe.
While not as exciting as the first two books, Whispers Under Ground is a satisfying read. Written as a stand-alone novel, one could get away with reading it without having read the first two, but you’ll miss out a few inside jokes, and besides, the first two are really enjoyable and you should read them. I’ve enjoyed all the books in this series, and while this is not as fast paced as the first two, the third feels like an old friend. The slower pace allowed me time to appreciate how Mr. Aaronovitch handles the race issue (Peter Grant is black and the author makes a point of using characters with a variety of ethnic backgrounds), political issues, and the very real way police officers are viewed by the public. He does it all with a humor that hits the right notes for this reader. Told in the first person point of view, the reader very much gets inside Peter’s head. I like the view from there. The character is personable, trustworthy, intelligent, and funny. Traits in a main character that will keep me coming back for more.
I anticipate the Peter Grant series will continue long into the future, and given Mr. Aaronovitch’s screen-writing skills, I foresee a fun, TV series emerging from these books. I highly recommend the series.
N.E. White, October 2012.