Book Review: Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Crime, Fantasy
Publishing Info: Gollancz (2011)
Pages: 373

Back Cover Summary:

It was clear to DC Grant that it was no heart attack that killed jazz saxophonist Cyrus Wilkinson. Someone, or something, is stalking the streets of Soho – drawn to that special gift that separates the great musicians from the rest.

As Grant follows the evidence deep into the back streets of London-town his investigation quickly gets tangled up in another story: that of brilliant trumpet player, Richard ‘Lord’ Grant. Who also happens to be Grant’s father.

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.

Moon Over Soho combines an interesting case with some great focus on the social history of jazz music in London to create a good follow-up to Rivers of London, even if the open-ended nature of the resolution could be frustrating if you are looking for a solo novel.

The main aspect of this book series that is standing out to date is how Aaronovitch manages to link the overriding themes and the central investigation with an aspect of London’s identity that is prominent. The previous book focused on theatres and Moon Over Soho looks into the music scene and of jazz. Being a musical style that highlights interesting commentary on race in particular, it is an ideal focus for Aaronovitch to bring to the forefront commentary on buildings and people. This is especially the case with the protagonist being black and much of the personal links to the case coming from his father being a well known jazz musician in the past.

Having to introduce a whole world and many of the groups and characters within, this book’s predecessor, Rivers of London could be accused of being slightly manic in the breathless way it proceeds through the second half of the book. Moon Over Soho feels much more assured in its narrative and the way more is known about the investigation over time, in true crime fiction style. It allowed for some memorable moments, such as the visit to the abandoned magician’s club and its horrors, to stand out brighter as they are surrounded by sections focusing on character development or romantic liaisons. It was also refreshing for this book to leave a wider investigation, involving the Faceless One and the Pale Lady, open to be revisited in the future, as it highlights that there are bigger powers and more powerful magicians than PC Grant; to have him defeat the major antagonist would have felt too soon for Grant’s development.

Another slight change from Rivers of London sees the focus move away from completely being about PC Grant. If the first book was all about him, then the second more resembles him narrating the crime and witnessing the development of other characters around him. PC May and DCI Nightingale are both recovering from injuries as a result of the first book, in the case of the former it is on a horrific scale. His parents and their history are also brought to the forefront as his father’s return as a jazz player coincides with the murders, whilst Molly, the mysterious woman who acts as housekeeper in the Folly, even gets a section reserved for her own history and how she ended up knowing Nightingale. Aaronovitch is bringing together a solid cast list very early on in the book series, which is great to see, though I hope that he eventually fleshes out more of the intriguing characters with potential such as Dr Walid.

Discussing the central case itself, I feel like the potential was there with a series of vampire attacks on musicians that leave magical traces which play extracts of famous jazz songs. However, this became slightly murky when the Pale Lady started murdering people in nightclubs; I would have preferred the focus to be kept on the central case. I did like how PC Grant’s family was connected to the jazz vampire case though. Likewise, Peter’s romance with the annoyingly light yet flirty Simone, the former girlfriend of one of the musicians murdered, went in a direction that I was expecting. The story behind the jazz vampires’ motivations and the resolution was interesting, emotional and shocking all at once, and at least provided some sort of closure to a case that has opened up more questions than it answered, in comparison to the self-contained Rivers of London.

The second novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series builds on the strength of the author’s writing with an interesting case that links to the presence of jazz music in London – and Peter Grant’s father. The open nature of the ending could be seen as frustrating but it sets the series up well for a regular antagonist in the future.

Star Rating: 4/5

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