The fourth in Ben Aaronovitch’s popular Peter Grant series, Broken Homes continues the story that started in 2011 with Rivers of London, followed by Moon Over Soho (also 2011) and Whispers Under Ground (2012). Part police procedural, part supernatural detective thriller, each book follows Grant around different parts of London as he tackles the kind of crimes that most coppers just don’t like having to deal with. Along the way he’s encountered argumentative river deities, jazz vampires, various ghosts and plenty of unhappy senior officers, seen his best friend possessed by the violent spirit of Mr Punch, and been buried underneath one of the platforms at Oxford Circus.
A big part of what makes these books so engaging is the way in which Aaronovitch weaves the history and soul of London into the stories as almost an extra character, his love for the city tangible throughout in Grant’s ongoing commentary on the different areas he visits. While the first three books focused on pretty central parts of London, this time he’s travelling further afield, at times venturing out of London and even slumming it south of the river to brave the grey concrete wilderness of Elephant and Castle, far from his usual manor. He’s still on the trail of the Faceless Man he first met in Moon Over Soho, investigating a series of strange crimes that seem to point to a 1950s tower block and some interesting ideas on architecture.
Following the same formula as the rest of the books, this is exciting stuff, continuing to tie together various threads that have been running through the series, from the Faceless Man to Lesley’s gradual rehabilitation, the ongoing training that Nightingale provides, and the growing popularity of Peter’s dad on the jazz scene. It’s fast-paced, brilliantly plotted and written in Grant’s wry, knowing, self-deprecating tone of voice as he offers an amusingly forthright insight into the inner workings of the Met and its relationship with the ominous world of magic. By now all of the main characters are so familiar and enjoyable that it’s like catching up with friends you haven’t seen for a while; Lesley, Nightingale, Molly, they’re all present and correct, as are the usual bunch of river spirits and slightly dodgy magical folk.
It’s a really well-realised world, with just enough of the magic and the supernatural elements to make it stand out from the crowd without being overly fantasy, and it continues to show just how good a storyteller Aaronovitch is. There’s clearly a lot more mileage for the series and plenty more stories waiting to be told, and on the basis of this book it looks like the series as a whole is continuing to grow while maintaining its excellent standard.