I was right. What a fun read. Our Constable, Peter Grant, is only on the job three months with his partner, Leslie, when they are called to a murder scene at St. Paul’s Convent Garden. They knew immediately that the person was dead because it was missing its head. One of the first responders confirms
that there was a body and that, everything else being equal, it probably wasn’t a case of accidental death.
They found the head six meters away where it had rolled behind one of the neoclassical columns that fronted the church’s portico.
I always like a murder mystery that starts off with a headless body. It’s a plot that hits the ground running, so to speak, and if you toss in some quietly snappy writing, and I’m totally in.
Our boy is guarding the scene while his partner goes for coffee, and is approached by a witness. How reliable the witness is may be suspect, because the witness is a ghost, one Nicolas Wallpenny, late of, well, some past time in London’s history.
When the powers that be discover that Peter has met a ghost, he is assigned to Inspector Nightingale, who, as it turns out, is head of the paranormal division of the police department, under some kind of clandestine arrangement. Or maybe it is an agreement.
“I was led to believe that your section served a vestigial function and that the ‘– The Commissioner had to force the word out.’ — that “the Magic” was in decline and only posed a marginal threat to the Queen’s peace. But the magic’s coming back?” “Since the mid-sixties,” said Nightingale.
Anyway, they now constitute a department of two. After some encouragement, Peter agrees to apprentice under Nightingale to learn magic. They go back to the crime scene, to see if they can pick up a trace.
“A trace of what, sir?” I asked. “The uncanny,” said Nightingale. “It always leaves a trace. The uncanny is like a bright light when you close your eyes, it leaves an afterimage. We call it vestigium”
Dang, this book is getting better and better.
It is a two-layered storyline, that sort of merges at the end. The murder mystery continues with more deaths of a similar nature, and including participants whose faces —- how can I put this for the squeamish — fall off. We’re talking some serious ghost infestation here.
We learn that London, and probably the world, is full of non-human beings, many of them genii locorum, the local gods, who most definitely existed. Not to mention the vampires, ghosts, and well, just all kinds. Very low key, they are, so not to worry.
The other plot thread is about a family feud between the gods of the rivers of London,– Mama Thames who controls the lower part of the river and Old Man River, the country bumpkin, in charge of the upper parts. The family members — and it is a rather large family — all have names of the rivers of London, and it is clear that while they are not exactly goddesses, they aren’t quite fully human, either. Peter somehow is sucked into the problem of brokering a peace between the two branches of the family.
On thinking more about this, it seems to me that the secondary, or co-primary plotline of the river gods doesn’t really have much at all to do with the mystery plotline, but maybe was this great story idea that the author didn’t quite know what to do with, so wove it into this book. Much like Real Life, now that I ponder it. You now, how there are parallel storylines running through our lives that don’t really have anything to do with each other.
Peter Grant, apprentice wizard. Being a child of the technological age, Peter is engrossed on trying to understand magic, wondering if a person were to come under the influence of the vast and subtle magic that seemed to permeate certain localities, then perhaps they could be physically shaped by that magic. Tis a mystery, that it is.