Whispers Under Ground
Published 2012 416 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
In Tufnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains to and from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And once Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long suffering colleague Lesley May down there to look for a ghost. We found one.
And that was that, I thought, because come Monday I get to do some proper policing, Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves.
Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case.
And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Undergound, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits…
Whispers Under Ground is the third instalment of the Peter Grant urban fantasy series from British author Ben Aaronovitch. The books follow the investigations and magical adventures of PC Peter Grant, a young police constable (and apprentice wizard) of the Metropolitan police force. Earlier books saw Peter discovered to have magical talent and swiftly apprenticed to DI Nightingale, Britain’s last wizard (also employed by the Metropolitan Police in the special magical investigation unit based at The Folly) – and set up much of the back story and introduced a couple of longer running plotlines. Although Whispers Under Ground has a fairly stand alone plotline I’d still recommend new readers to read the books in order rather than starting here.
Established fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter grant books will know what to expect by now. There is a decent mystery to be solved and in the process readers are taken on a richly detailed voyage through the both the real and the imagined hidden parts of London. The author’s love of London just shines through the narrative and Peter, the story’s protagonist and narrator, uses his keen observations to tell the tale with humour and wit. Whispers Under Ground delivers all this and more – in terms of characterisation, pacing and mystery investigation this is the best written book in the series do far – and for the most part it leaves fans with little cause for complaint.
The story is set against the backdrop of a murder in London Underground railway system. How the victim ended up on the tracks after the station was closed for the night is a mystery and more suspiciously the murder weapon turns out to be of magical origin. This is clearly a case for The Folly and Peter is seconded to join the murder team. His investigations lead him deep into the old forgotten sewers and disused metro tunnels under London.
Any Tube traveller who’s got a half decent imagination and has spent more than five minutes waiting for a train has probably spent some of that time in idle speculation about what else is down the tunnels… forgotten stations, cannibalistic commuters, mutants, the secret lairs of megalomaniac villains plotting world domination… the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. In Whispers Under Ground the author does a good job of exploring what lies beneath London and the story rockets along at a good pace as Peter sloshes through the sewers tracking down his murder suspects.
For all its witty banter, perfect pacing and clever writing Whispers Under Ground isn’t my favourite book in the series so far. It was great reading – the book was devoured in the course of a couple of afternoons over a weekend – and while I was reading it I was happy enough but once the last page was turned I felt that the story left me vaguely unsatisfied overall. Even days later I can’t quite express what just didn’t work out for me. It could have been that the exciting plotline laid in earlier books hinting a big secret society of evil magic practitioners was largely ignored in favour of the murder on the Tube plotline. It could be that the solution to the murder mystery was actually pretty mundane with an all too common (and entirely non-magical) motive.
However, feel free to ignore my griping. Whispers Under Ground may not seem to further the overall series in any meaningful way but it is a good investigative interlude. Perfect for crime fiction and fantasy fans both.
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