Book Review: Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho

Posted August 11, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho

Moon Over Soho


Ben Aaronovitch

urban fantasy that was published by Ballantine Books on April 21, 2011 and has 396 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Midnight Riot, Whispers Under Ground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer, The Hanging Tree

Second in the PC Peter Grant urban fantasy detective series and revolving around Peter, a police constable who has become an apprentice in magic. It really should be a “6”.

My Take

I can’t help but love the PC Peter Grant series. Aaronovitch has the slyest sense of humor, and you can’t help laughing your way through.

“…the planning department of the London County Council, whose unofficial motto was Finishing What the Luftwaffe Started…”

Peter is a typical guy who wants to shag the bird, has family issues, and is struggling with police bureaucracy. The bird is usually a river goddess or some other supernatural. His family consists of a heroin-addicted, jazz-playing father and his Fula mother with her widely extended Sierra Leonean family. The police issues are the typical ones found in any mystery novel, but with that twist of magic about which no one wants to know.

“It had the surprising heft of a 78, much heavier than an LP; anyone weaned exclusively on CDs probably wouldn’t have been able to lift it.”

Peter talks about his dad a lot. The drugs and alcohol. The heroin. The number of times his dad almost made it. His mother is the one who makes me laugh. She’s a typical mom with an obsession for relatives, no matter how remote. Then there’s the home cooking that reflects her origins. It makes for a nice twist on the usual protagonist background.

“I mean, I have my problems with the New Thing and the rest of the atonal modernists but I wouldn’t kill someone for playing it — at least not if I wasn’t trapped in the same room.”

Aaronovitch cracks me up with all the “official speak” that Peter translates in his head. It’s all the snark you’ve thought in your head when your boss is pontificating away.

“…and the clever people at CERN are smashing particles together in the hope that Doctor Who will turn up and tell them to stop.”

We find out what Ettersberg was and get more background on Molly. Eeep.

“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.”

The Story

Being his “dad’s vinyl-wallah is 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 recognized the tune it was playing.”

Nightingale discovers how isolated he’d become as he and Peter dive in, and it starts when “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.

It will be 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.

The Characters

Detective Constable Peter Grant is learning magic under the eagle eye of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. They are officially in the ESC9, the Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, a.k.a., the Folly, the magic house (where the boys live in Russell Square) that most coppers don’t talk about in polite company. Their primary duty is the investigation of unsanctioned wizards and other magical practitioners. Toby is the dog they acquired in Midnight Riot. Inspector Murville was Nightingale’s first “governor”. Molly is the Folly’s housekeeper, cook, and rodent exterminator. She terrifies Peter with all those teeth and her preference for raw meat.

“Peter doesn’t hold any of that against her or ‘let her get between me and the exit’.”

Harold Postmartin, DPhil, FRS, is the curator of special collections at the Bodleian Library in Oxford — and the magical archivist. Frank Caffrey is their fire brigade contact, a reservist in the parachute regiment, and the magical SWAT team.

Lord Grant’s Irregulars will include…
Jimmy Lochrane (teaches seventeenth century French history) as the drummer, Derek “Max” Harwood plays bass (he’s an integrated systems specialist for the London Underground), and Danny Hossack (a classically trained music teacher) was on the piano in their band.

Peckwater Estate is where Peter grew up. His father, Richard “Lord” Grant, who lost his lip back in the 1990s, is a jazz legend. Now he’s learning to play keyboard. Abigail is a young girl interested in magic; her father, Adam Kamara, is some sort of cousin.

London Metropolitan PD
Leslie May, Peter’s cop friend, is recuperating at Chez May under the eye of her dad, Henry. Dr. Abdul Haqq Walid is a world-renowned gastroenterologist, cryptopathologist, and practicing Scot. Detective Sergeant (DS) Stephanopoulis is one scary copper on the Murder Team. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Zachary Thompson is Stephanopoulis’ beard. Sahra Guleed is a Somali Muslim ninja.

Commercial Robberies Unit of the Serious and Organized Crime Group is also known as the Flying Squad or the Sweeney. DPS is the Directorate of Professional Standards and scares all the coppers. OPS was the Obscene Publications Squad, the single most corrupt unit, that had run a protection racket for porno shops and strip clubs.

Detective Constable (DC) David Trollope is with the Norfolk constabulary .DCI Seawoll is being investigated for his part in the Covent Garden riots. PC Phillip Purdy is a “uniform carrier” copper with whom Peter had worked. The retired DCI Jerry “Greasy” Johnson, whose beat was Soho, might have been a source for Dunlop. Seems Greasy had some unsavory delights.

Father Thames is…
…the ancient god of the River Thames, or at least that part above Teddington Lock. The gorgeous Ash Thames is one of Colne’s sons and the hostage sent to Mama Thames in Midnight Riot. Oxley Thames is one of Father’s sons and one of his chief counselors, media guru, and hatchet man; he’d also been a medieval monk.

Mama Thames appeared…
…in 1957 and is the goddess who rules below Teddington Lock. Her children are all named after rivers whether those rivers still exist or not. Beverly Brook was the hostage exchanged at the end of Midnight Riot. “Lady” Cecelia Tyburn Thames (leave off the lady at your peril) is a snooty bitch who went to Oxford and loves playing politics. She’s married and they have a son, Stephen George McAllister Thames. Brent is very young. Effra‘s kids went to Peter’s school. Olympia, a.k.a., Counter’s Creek, has a twin sister, Chelsea, and they’re patrolling the Thames where Peter must jump in with Ash.

The jazz connection is…
…a combination of victims and predators which began in March 1941 at the Café de Paris in Soho when Ken “Snakehips” Johnson and his band were playing. Cyrus Wilkinson, an accountant, was on alto saxophone playing “Body and Soul”. Simone Fitzwilliam is Cyrus’ jazz-loving girlfriend. She has two friends she considers sisters: Margaret “Peggy” Brown and Cherie Mensier. Melinda Abbot was Cyrus’ fiancée. Or as the boys says, “just the one at home”. If only she had come to gigs.

The Mysterioso, a smoky bar designed to recreate the old jazz bars, is run by the Management, Don Blackwood and Stanley Gibbs. The Potemkin has a late license. The Groucho Club is a Postmodernist club.

Mickey the Bone, a.k.a., Michael Adjayi, is a one-in-million trombone player in Don Cherry’s band. Martha is one of three of Michael’s sisters. Cherie was Mickey’s girlfriend. Henry “the Lips” Bellrush, a cornet player, left behind Anita Bellrush. He used to do an act with Peggy. Colin Sandbrow would have been the next victim if Ash hadn’t intervened.

Madam Valerie runs a patisserie which Simone absolutely adores. Tista Ghosh is the Jazz Section’s welfare officer. Gabriella Rossi opened A Glimpse of Stocking in 1986. Miss Patternost was the girls’ music mistress at Cosgrove Hall; Sadie Weintraub was her friend in Hollywood.

The Little Crocodiles were…
…a boys-only club at Magdalen put together by Geoffrey Wheatcroft who taught theology, officially, at Magdalen College. Jason “Gripper” Dunlop was a freelance journalist who met a woman with a vagina dentata. He’d been at Magdalen along with Jeffers. Tiger-Boy is a chimera working for the Faceless One, a magician probably taught by Wheatcroft.

Larry “Larry the Lark” Piercingham had been with the Somers Town gang. Michael “the Mick” McCullough was likely the governor of the mob. >Alexander Smith puts on burlesque shows at the Purple Pussycat. Seems burlesque is all about glamor and sensuality. No-neck, a.k.a., Tony, is the bodyguard Alex inherited.

Peter christens the vagina-chomping assaulter the Pale Lady.

Vestigium is an imprint magic leaves on physical objects. Sensis illic is what Peter calls background vestigium. Signare is the unique signature left behind by a magic practitioner. Lacuna is a hot spot of residual magic. Forma is how you think the magic into action. Tactus disvitae is antilife. Think vampire. Black magic is magic used to cause breach of the peace. The Virtuous Men are an American magic group out of the University of Pennsylvania. Ettersberg was the last magical battle in World War II. Hypothaumaturgical degradation is what kills you if you do too much magic.

The sons of Mūsā ibn Shākir are famous for Kitab al-Hiyal, The Book of Ingenious Devices, published back in the 800s.

The Cover and Title

I do love the covers in this series. This one is subdued lilacs with a fuchsia ribbon twirling off the letters in the title. Some swirl up to frame the author’s name while another swoops into the black woodcut of an aerial view of London town. A thicker ribbon of fuchsia winds through the neighborhoods, the River Thames, an underlying theme for the series.

I’m not sure about the title. My best guess is that it’s that dark light of magic, the Moon Over Soho, that shines forth on the truth and the past of the jazz scene in London.