The Hanging Tree: A return of “weird bollocks”

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The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch urban fantasy book reviewsThe Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch urban fantasy book reviewsThe Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

DCI Peter Grant returns in both literal and proverbial car crash style in The Hanging Tree, the latest addition to Ben Aaronovitchs RIVERS OF LONDON series. We left Peter and the gang still reeling from their adventures in Herefordshire in Foxglove Summer (adventures that included a magical rampaging unicorn), but we see a return to the concrete jungle that is London for Peter’s latest escapades.

The Hanging Tree opens in no-nonsense fashion with Lady Ty, goddess of the river Tyburn, asking Peter for a favour. She wants her daughter Olivia cleared of any involvement with a drugs related crime, which unfortunately just got messy: one teenage Christina Chorley has just died of an overdose and her brain shows signs of magical degradation. Olivia’s shaky legal situation is not made any better when she admits to buying and supplying the drugs and, face-to-face with the wrath of the most formidable river goddess, things are looking characteristically messy for Peter Grant.

RIVERS OF LONDON is a rare breed of series that has stayed consistently engaging and entertaining. The Hanging Tree is the sixth instalment, and whilst Aaronovitch has certainly not disappointed to date, one of the minor problems with the previous novel lay with the notable absence Peter’s former colleague, Lesley May and her defection to über-villain the Faceless Man’s team. This newest instalment delved so quickly into the newest case for Peter to solve that it seemed Aaronovitch was going to continue to avoid the issue of Lesley and said Faceless Man (and drag that cliffhanger out for another bloody book) but this was most certainly not the case. The Faceless Man is back with a vengeance and Lesley is back with a new face, leaving Peter and his superior Nightingale with a whole new host of problems.

Aaronovitch seems to be working under the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and to some extent I wholeheartedly support this: this series is consistently fun and action-packed and here I am waiting for the seventh book, and whilst Peter’s propensity to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is hilarious, I can’t help feeling that he’s stayed a little too static as a character. It’s very hard to trace any kind of growth arc and in later novels it would be great to see him developed.

Saying that, there’s no doubt Aaronovitch is a master of character. His side cast is delightful, from the eye-rolling Guleed — a new addition to the “weird bollocks” branch of the police, aka The Folly — to über-sassy river goddess Bev. The diversity of his cast is The Hanging Tree’s greatest strength, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see Britain represented as it should be.

The plotting does have a propensity to be a shade over complicated at times — with a seemingly endless supply of suspects, dodgy teenagers and their parents, and otherworldly hangers-on, it did get confusing. Aaronovitch flings names around like nobody’s business and readers will have to flip back through the book to keep track of who’s who — or just give up and go along for the ride, which I suppose works too. But for all the minor faults, Peter and his bevy of crime fighting Practitioners (don’t say magicians) are more than enough to make The Hanging Tree another delightful addition to a series that goes from strength to strength.

Published in 2016. Suspicious deaths are not usually the concern of Police Constable Peter Grant or the Folly—London’s police department for supernatural cases—even when they happen at an exclusive party in one of the flats of the most expensive apartment blocks in London. But the daughter of Lady Ty, influential goddess of the Tyburn river, was there, and Peter owes Lady Ty a favor. Plunged into the alien world of the super-rich, where the basements are bigger than the houses, where the law is something bought and sold on the open market, a sensible young copper would keep his head down and his nose clean. But this is Peter Grant we’re talking about. He’s been given an unparalleled opportunity to alienate old friends and create new enemies at the point where the world of magic and that of privilege intersect. Assuming he survives the week…

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RACHAEL “RAY” MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well — a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette — those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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3 comments

  1. These are finalists in the new Hugo category, Best Series:

    http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2017-hugo-awards/

  2. Someday I will read this series!

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