So have you ever watched BBCA's version of Law & Order? Or maybe caught an episode or two of CSI? Well smoosh those two together. Now add a heaping, helping of Harry Potter (minus Ron & Hermione and if Harry had grown up to become a police constable with a wry sense of humor). Got all that? Well that is the kinda of/sort of feeling you get when you read this book -- that BBCA L&O/CSI/Harry Potter mash-up feel. Only with super, delightful witty writing.
Peter Grant is a probationary constable who is on the cusp of getting his full assignment on the Metropolitan Police force in London. Sadly, his full assignment looks to be to the Case Progression Unit (CPU). The unit where the cops do the paperwork so the real cops can be out on the street. It isn't that Peter isn't smart or capable, it is that he just gets distracted a lot. He thinks too much.
During a particularly gruesome murder scene where the victim was decapitated, Peter is left behind to mind the scene and is approached by a person who claims to have witnessed the whole thing. The only problem is, this person is actually dead. Great, so now he's talking to ghosts! And what is worse, his presumably one-sided encounter was witnessed by Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.
Peter is puzzled when he gets his permanent orders to see he is not required to report to CPU instead he is assigned to a special unit, under the auspices of DCI Nightingale. Turns out, much to Peter's surprise, that ghosts exist as do other supernatural things such as vampires, werewolves, and warring river Gods. And there is a special unit in the Police that deals with them. And since Peter has shown he can detect supernatural beings he is now a member of the unit. He is also sworn in as a Wizard apprentice with Nightingale is his very own Dumbledore (if Dumbledore wore a natty suit, had a plummy Leslie Howard accent and drove a Jag).
The book then morphs into a police procedural/mystery with Peter and Nightingale tracking down a supernatural killer. It also has a few side plots. One side plot deals with Peter moving into
a magically protected manor house where all the wizard apprentices are supposed to live to learn and work on his magic with Nightingale as his teacher. Another side plot involves the task of settling a dispute between the gods/goddesses of the River Thames. And finally there is his friendship, complete with unresolved sexual tension, between him and his best friend Leslie, also a constable.
I shelved this book as Urban Fantasy and really that is what it is. But it doesn't feel like other UF out there at all. First of all because Peter isn't gloomy and cynical. He has just the best inner voice. It is funny and dry and self-deprecating. Also, while there are supernatural creatures, the book marries magic with technology and police procedure. Peter may have magical ability but in his heart he is a tech geek. He loves his gadgets. And part of that 'thinking too much' thing that does not stand him well as a street cop, actually works incredibly well in his new assignment. He doesn't just rely on the magic to figure things out or help. It is new and shiny and cool, but it is still too new to him. So he falls back on what he knows: geek-science. In the end he uses both things to help him figure things out.
I also thought the River spirits were fun and clever. All of the rivers in and around London are personified. The women are daughters of the Goddess of the Thames and the men are the sons of the God of Thames. So we get to meet cute Beverly (Beverly Brook), mean Tyburn (River Tyburn) and others. The territory dispute between the boys and girls (& the God & Goddess) make for a fun distraction from the main case.
Also high points go to making the book multicultural, also a rarity in UF. Peter's mother is from Sierra Leone. His father is a British Jazz legend. Peter is biracial and many of his more amusing inner musings touch on this fact lightly. The daughters of the Mother of Thames are mostly black women, while the sons of the Father are all white. The London we wander around as we follow Peter and meet with the people he encounters are a cornucopia of races and ethnicities. The author has uses a deft, sure hand with his inclusion. The cultural variety and vibrancy around Peter is no big thing it just...is.
The ending of the main story was very exciting although I am super worried about Leslie's fate. I also enjoyed the ending to the river dispute and hope we get to at least glimpse those characters again in later books.