Ben Aaronovitch, author of the Peter Grant series that started with Rivers of London and is now up to its fifth book, is a cruel man. First he ends his last book, Broken Homes, with an earth-shattering twist that nobody can have seen coming, then he makes us wait extra long for the next book to be released. Now it’s finally here, in the shape of Foxglove Summer, he’s teasing us, withholding the information we really want in favour of having Peter dragged off to the middle of nowhere to help look for missing children, 150 miles away from London, Nightingale and the Met. All the while he’s feeding us little titbits regarding the events at the end of Broken Homes; clearly he has big plans for the next instalments in the series.
So no, this doesn’t pick up the story immediately after Broken Homes. Instead it sees Peter even further out of his comfort zone than last time, swapping London’s busy streets for the hills, woods and pathways of rural Herefordshire. As a result it’s quite a change from the first four in the series; with Nightingale et al still back in London, Peter’s introduced to a whole new cast of characters, from rural police to village residents and the local river spirits. The only familiar face is Beverley Brook, sent to help Peter with his investigation. For the most part this is fine; for the most part the new characters are just as well-drawn and interesting as those back in London, and it’s fun to see Peter having to adapt to police work outside the big smoke. The one problem is that without London underpinning the story, at times it feels a little like something’s missing. Aaronovitch looks at the geography and history of the area in much the same way as he normally does with London, but it never quite feels as interesting or as fundamental to the story as London does in the other books.
Ultimately it’s a minor niggle, because as a whole the book is as funny, engaging and gripping as the rest of the series; barring a surprising number of missed proof-reading errors, it’s typically well written and delightfully easy to get caught up in the story. With London swapped for the countryside it feels like there’s a deliberate sense of expanding the setting’s boundaries, with an obviously pastoral feel to both the plot and the characters, not least the magical ones. There’s a strong whiff of Terry Pratchett in places (the book is in fact dedicated to the great man) and it’s interesting to see the way in which the overall story is starting to stretch out a little. With plenty more to find out about the still-hanging Broken Homes thread, and some intriguing hints at other things to come, let’s just hope the next book isn’t too long in coming.