A promising jazz drummer is found dead of a heart attack shortly after playing a gig in London. At first, the only odd circumstance surrounding his death is the fact that Peter Grant, apprentice wizard and police constable, faintly hears the notes of the jazz standard “Body and Soul” rising from the corpse, indicating that magic was somehow involved in the musician’s death. However, when further research reveals that several jazz musicians have died in similar circumstances over the years, it suddenly becomes much more urgent for Peter and his supervisor Thomas Nightingale to find out what’s really going on…
So begins Moon over Soho, the second book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. Let’s get the most important news out of the way first: if you enjoyed Midnight Riot (or Rivers of London, as it’s called outside of the US), you’ll love Moon over Soho. The new novel does just about everything its predecessor did so well, but a little better and with enough new twists to make you wish the third book in the series was already on the shelves.
One of the reasons Moon over Soho is an even more fun read than the first book is the fact that it doesn’t have to spend as much time setting things up for the reader. We already know who police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant is, we know about Thomas Nightingale and his secret magical department in the London police force, we have some background about how magic works, we know about the Folly. Thanks to all of this, Ben Aaronovitch can kick the story into high gear right from the beginning, with Peter’s investigation into the jazz drummer’s death (and into another seemingly unrelated but much more gruesome incident) quickly setting up a few side-plots and new characters. At the same time, there’s space in the story to fill the reader in on things like Thomas Nightingale’s past and the history of magic in England, and to throw in hilarious side-bars such as the goofy way of determining the strength of residual magic by measuring how loud Toby the dog barks (“0.5 milliyaps”).
The cover’s catchphrase is “Magic and murder to a jazz beat”, which is surprisingly appropriate in several ways. Jazz is a running theme throughout the novel, from the drummer who is found dead in the opening chapter to Peter’s father, a famous jazz musician in his day, who plays a more important role in Moon over Soho than in the first book. There’s a comical group of side-characters called “the irregulars” who are all jazzmen (or at least wannabe jazzmen) and who will hopefully appear in future novels. Several chapters bear the title of famous jazz songs or albums. And finally, this may be a stretch but the book is written in what I’d pretentiously like to call a highly propulsive style. That’s probably not a real jazz term at all, but nevertheless, the fact that the story rarely slows down (and when it does, it’s for a good reason) makes Moon over Soho hard to put down and never boring. It’s like one of those songs you can’t help but tap your foot along to.
Going back to that cover for a moment: Neth Space has an excellent article up about the noticeable difference between the US and UK covers. It’s painfully obvious they’re different, and while the term “white-washing” is not entirely appropriate (given that the model’s actually turned into a black silhouette), it’s still hard to imagine why Del Rey felt the need to change these covers in this day and age.
Regardless, Ben Aaronovitch delivers another winner with Moon over Soho, a realistic modern day police procedural (aside from all the magic, of course) populated by increasingly solid characters and written in the same consistently witty style as the first Peter Grant novel. It features a gripping mystery plot with some truly creepy, borderline horror elements and a few incredibly tense action scenes. Moon over Soho is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a long time, and really made me look forward to the next installment in the Peter Grant series. Check it out, even if (like me) you usually don’t enjoy urban fantasy.